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Published in Print: June 6, 2007, as Texas Passes Bill to Require End-of-Course Exams

Texas Passes Bill to Require End-of-Course Exams

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A bill passed by the Texas legislature that would replace the high school exit exam with 12 end-of-course exams taken by students in grades 9-11 is now in the hands of Gov. Rick Perry, along with a number of other K-12 education-related measures, including the nation’s most ambitious steroid-testing program for high school athletes.

Kathryn M. Cesinger, the deputy press secretary for the Republican governor, said she couldn’t comment prior to the governor’s final decisions on whether he might approve any of the bills passed by lawmakers in their session that wrapped up May 28. He has until June 17 to sign, veto, or permit those measures to become law without his signature.

Ms. Cesinger noted, however, that “as for end-of-course exams, he does support that, but as far as whether he’ll sign the actual legislation, he’ll have to see how it looks in its final form.”

Also on the governor’s desk as of last week was legislation saying that a school may teach a Bible class if at least 15 students request it; clarifying that students have the opportunity to express their religious views in homework, school assignments, or in a “limited public forum”; and requiring that students receive 30 minutes per day, or 135 minutes per week, of physical education.

The legislature also approved a $24.7 million pre-K-12 budget for the next fiscal year, an increase of $4.3 billion over the previous year. Suzanne Marchman, a public information officer for the Texas Education Agency, said that figure could change before the governor approves the budget.

The testing bill would replace the 4-year-old Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, at the high school level with end-of-course tests, an approach gaining some momentum among states. Currently, four states require such tests for graduation and three more will require them by 2012, according to the Center on Education Policy. ("States Mull Best Way to Assess Their Students for Graduation," May 16, 2007.)

State Sen. Florence Shapiro, a Republican, said she co-authored the bill because she feels that “one single exam has been very high-stakes, and it’s caused a lot of problems in Texas. The youngsters become anxious. The teachers have been teaching to the test rather than worrying about the core subjects.”

Breathing Room

Representatives of two Texas education organizations said they are pleased with the final legislation for end-of-course exams, primarily because the legislature decided that the new system wouldn’t be implemented until September 2011. Previous proposals had said the new exams should be carried out by the 2009-10 school year.

“We need time to develop the tests and make sure the teachers know what they have to teach,” said Dax Gonzalez, the communications manager for the Texas School Boards Association.

Amy Beneski, the associate executive director of governmental relations for the Texas Association of School Administrators, said her group generally likes the end-of-course approach. “There’s something to be said for end-of-course exams being more timely than a test you might take over courses you’ve taken two years previously,” she said.

The version of the bill initially passed by the Texas Senate had said that students would be able to graduate from high school if they averaged a score of at least 70 percent on all of the exams. The final version of the bill requires that students average 70 percent in each of four different categories of courses: English, mathematics, science, and social studies.

Texas House and Senate proposals had differed on what percentage of students’ course grade each exam would account for. The final bill says that each exam shall be worth 15 percent of each course grade.

Texas education groups didn’t have strong positions on the bill that calls for random testing of high school athletes for use of steroids. The bill says the random testing should be of a “statistically significant number” of high school students who participate in sports events affiliated with the University Interscholastic League. In addition, the bill says the testing should be administered to about 30 percent of high schools in Texas.

Both Ms. Beneski and Mr. Gonzalez said their groups were happy that the legislature decided the league—not school districts—would pay for the testing.

In a program closely watched by other states, New Jersey last year began more limited steroid testing of high school athletes who make it to postseason play. ("N.J. Steroid Testing Gets Attention in Other States," March 28, 2007.)

Two weeks ago, Florida lawmakers approved a one-year pilot program to test 1 percent of high school athletes who compete in football, baseball, and weightlifting.

The Texas legislature also overturned an executive order issued Feb. 2 by Gov. Perry requiring 6-grade girls to get a vaccination against human papillomavirus, or HPV. ("Bill Blocking Vaccine Mandate Dodges Texas Governor’s Veto," May 16, 2007.)

PHOTO: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, left, talks with Mike Morrissey, his director of budget planning and policy, at a news conference that touched on the recent legislative session.
—Harry Cabluck/AP

Vol. 26, Issue 39, Pages 15-16

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