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Senate panel considers exempting thousands from Texas high school graduation exams

Dallas Morning News
February 19, 2015

By Terrence Stutz

Senate Education Committee members Thursday considered legislation that would ease Texas’ high school graduation test requirement for the first time in 28 years.

Under the measure by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, thousands of high school seniors would no longer have to pass graduation exams to get a diploma if they qualified for a new exemption created by the bill.

Since 1987, high school students in Texas have had to pass a graduation test – or series of tests – to get a diploma. The requirement dates back to the landmark school reform law passed in 1984 that also included elementary class size limits and the no-pass, no-play rule.

Seliger said his legislation was prompted by the estimated 28,000 seniors from the Class of 2015 who are in danger of not receiving their diplomas because they have not passed all five end-of-course tests required for graduation. Those exams measure knowledge and skills in Algebra I, biology, English I, English II and U.S. history.

“Without a high school diploma, these students cannot attend college, join the military or qualify for many jobs,” Seliger said, adding that many of the students will simply drop out of high school if they repeatedly fail the EOC exams, part of the STAAR testing program.

His bill would create an “individual graduation committee” for each student who has failed the EOC exams on multiple tries. The committee – made up of the principal, teacher, counselor and parent – could exempt the student from the test requirement with a unanimous vote. The panel would first consider other factors such as course grades and scores on other tests.

Some senators worried that many students would see the provision as a loophole in the law that would allow them to easily get around the graduation test rule. In addition, one critic noted that when such committees are set up to review student performance, they almost always pass or promote the student regardless of achievement.

Last year, about 9,000 seniors were denied diplomas because they couldn’t pass the state graduation exam. But that test was part of the old TAKS testing program and was easier than the STAAR end-of-course exams students must now pass.

More than 90 percent of the Class of 2015 have already passed all the EOC exams, with one more opportunity for students to pass this spring. Education committee members left the bill pending on Thursday.