In about a week, summer vacation will end and school will begin for most children in the state of Texas. And Texas schools are changing...again.
During the last legislature Texas lawmakers passed HB5 which makes significant changes in some aspects of student testing and graduation. Some of us may have heard that there will be fewer end-of-course exams. Others are familiar with different graduating pathways. But what does this mean and more importantly what does this mean for public school children in Texas.
Bill McKenzie of the Dallas Morning News Q& A with State Senator Dan Patrick gives some pretty good insight into the intent of the law. Parents especially should familiarize themselves with it. You can find out more about it at the Texas Education Agency website.
Sen. Dan Patrick Q&A: Demystifying HB 5, the new education law about to go into effect
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, along with Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, led legislators this year in creating a new way to assess students and schools. The much-debated HB 5 also created new high school diploma options. The bill’s significant changes will begin this school year. Points asked Patrick, chairman of the state Senate Education Committee, to explain the changes — and defend them.
The state will now use a new performance index to evaluate schools. It contains so many data points that the index reads like Tom Landry’s old complex Cowboy playbook. How can you keep this simple enough for parents and educators to understand?
If our schools perform as well as the Cowboys did under Landry, I will be happy!
This system came about through conversations that Aycock and I had with many superintendents. The feedback I’ve heard so far is educators like HB 5 and its new directions because it includes their suggestions. It gives districts more local control and teachers more freedom to teach. Educators also understand that accountability comes along with that freedom.
The Texas Education Agency may need to simplify the system over time, and we may need to keep tweaking it. But we didn’t drive this legislation down school districts’ throats. We listened to their suggestions in writing HB 5.
How will parents know if their child’s school is performing well?
Within two years, school districts will move to an A-to-F rating. They will be ranked just like their children are on their report cards. Parents will certainly understand how their district is performing.
The system will require districts to buy in because they will want every school to perform well. Otherwise, the district itself will not get a high rating. Unfortunately, schools will not be rated using an A-to-F system. Democrats didn’t want that. Campuses still will use the exemplary, recognized, acceptable and unacceptable rankings. We need to better explain those to parents. The goal is for all schools to perform higher.
This year’s high school freshmen will only have to take five end-of-course exams before they graduate. How will parents know if their child is really ready for the workforce or college, especially since many tests will stop by the end of 10th grade?
Students will still take math, science and social studies courses. The difference is that not all will have a state test. We just went overboard on testing. Texas was off the testing Richter scale compared to other states. Using numerous end-of-course tests made sense in theory, but it didn’t work in execution.
I read a book by a whistle-blower who worked for the Pearson testing company. He hired people who graded the tests, but I realized they were hiring people who in some cases may not have been qualified to assess the exams. Who better to grade a student: a teacher who has been with the student all year or a stranger far away with no relation to the student? That key point has been lost in the rush to standardized testing.
If standardized testing is so bad, why did scores for blacks and Latinos go up on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, before the Obama administration started slowing down No Child Left Behind’s accountability requirements?
I support standardized testing at a certain level. But we have gone too far. The question is not all or nothing. The question is: What is the right number of tests that will hold schools accountable and at the same time not undermine what you are trying to achieve with the tests?
You champion using SATs and ACTs to help evaluate student performance. They are important, but they aren’t aligned to the state’s curriculum. Shouldn’t tests that we use as part of our accountability system be aligned to the curriculum?
Standardized tests are allegedly aligned to the curriculum. Assuming they are, that gives you one set of information. Are students learning what the state requires?
The SAT and ACT are different tests. They tell you how your students compare with other students in the nation. Both pieces of information are important.
When I talked to university presidents before preparing HB 5, I found out something very important. None of them said they looked to the state’s standardized tests as an admission factor. They looked at grade-point averages and the SAT or ACT. Until this changes, students need both sets of tests.
What should happen if students score poorly on the SAT or ACT?
If they perform poorly, they will also likely perform poorly on the state achievement test and end-of-year classroom grades. There may be exceptions, but not for most.
If a student is not performing well on these tests, we have to look at their entire academic career. Do they have a basic reading problem? Is this an issue of not having a solid math foundation?
Your bill sets up new pathways for high school students. They can earn endorsements on their diplomas if they have enough credits in designated areas. But what incentive is there for most high school students to take more challenging courses like Algebra II?
I do not buy into the idea that students want to take the easy way out. Some will. But I believe students will step up if they are challenged in areas that interest them. Many students still will want to go to college. This system will not change their thinking or direction.
The purpose of the pathways is to make sure students are not pushed in only one direction. Not all students want a four-year degree. Previously, 80 percent of Texas students were on a college pathway when in reality many were never going to go to a four-year university. They ended up graduating from high school and not attending college while lacking the skills to begin a career.
The focus of HB 5 is to make sure every student graduates prepared for college and a career by creating flexibility for students to pursue their passion. My goal is to see every student graduate with an endorsement.
Eighty percent of all jobs require some additional education after high school, but not all jobs require a four-year degree.
I encourage all students to attend college, but if they choose not to, I want them prepared to earn a great living in a challenging profession. We have devalued many jobs that pay well but don’t require college. That needs to change.
This Q&A was conducted via email and condensed by Dallas Morning News editorial columnist William McKenzie. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Patrick can be reached at email@example.com.