Our country was founded on the premise that hard work and education are the keys to success and the American Dream. Home ownership, entrepreneurship, and especially rising out of poverty are all directly tied to one’s education, perseverance and creativity.
With this in mind, what is more important for our children than a rigorous education? Strong math, reading, and writing skills enable all students from a range of backgrounds to achieve their dreams.
Yet, much to our astonishment, the Texas House is reversing course after spending nearly 20 years raising standards and tweaking the accountability system. The House recently passed a bill that sunsets the accountability system, eliminates graduation exit exams, and makes social promotion easier – gutting the high school accountability system.
Almost everyone wants to get rid of the high school TAKS test. Students, parents, educators, teacher groups, and policymakers all support replacing the high school TAKS test with exams at the end of each course called end-of-course exams. Beyond that, the agreement ends.
Education reformers are trying to raise the rigor of the exams required for graduation to help students graduate ready to succeed, while the education lobby wants to eradicate high stakes testing all together. Testing opponents are successfully watering down accountability in schools; under the House bill, students can fail all of their end-of-course exams and still graduate.
For more than 20 years, Texas has had an exit exam requirement for graduation. Today, students must pass the math, science, English, and history sections of the 11th grade TAKS to graduate.
These tests ensured that students did not leave high school without obtaining a certain level of basic knowledge and skills. And over time standards have been slowly raised in response to higher expectations from colleges and employers.
Over the years, high stakes tests stimulated significant gains in student learning. Today, Texas leads the nation in improving elementary and middle school math and reading. Now, just as Texas is beginning to make real progress in getting students to high school on grade level, House legislators destroyed one of the best tools we’ve used to do so.
Only last week the Texas House eliminated high school exit exams as a condition for graduation destroying 20 years of progress and improvement in public education. And now that our tests are finally getting closer to measuring college and workplace readiness, this bill lessens their importance and reinstates “social graduation.”
Unfortunately, this is not the only education back-pedaling for legislators this session. The House recently reversed the bipartisan agreement to end social promotion in Texas, replacing the currently generous loophole that allows students to avoid retention with a new loophole that makes social promotion almost inevitable.
Worse still, the House agreed to eliminate the school accountability system in 2011. It has taken Texas 15 years to build up one of the best systems in the country. It should be studied for needed changes, and there remains plenty of room for improvement, but it makes no sense to eliminate the entire system. Sunsetting the current system only makes it vulnerable to bad policy that could further erode the ability of Texans to hold schools accountable.
Do legislators really think lowering expectations and academic standards will help more students become ready for the rigors of college and the real world?
Make no mistake; the House’s version of the end-of-course exam bill hurts Texas students. Lowering standards and expectations does not help students. It only sets them up for failure in the real world, where results are more important than their self esteem.
There’s not much time left in the legislative session, but there’s enough to make real improvements in public education. Legislators need to raise expectations for our future leaders. If those expectations are lowered, the hard work of education reformers over the last two decades will essentially go down the drain, leaving a horrible legacy for today’s leaders and hurting the chances of young Texans to achieve their dreams.
Sandy Kress is an advisor to Texans for Excellence in the Classroom. Brooke Dollens Terry is an education policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Jim Windham is President of the Texas Institute for Education Reform. Chris Patterson is a Senior Fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.