, Port Arthur, Texas

March 28, 2013

Bill would cut crucial tests from 15 to five

Erinn Callahan
Port Arthur News

— Note: Corrected from earlier version to reflect that Rep. Joe Deshotel worked with Memorial 9th Grade Academy Principal Lisa Chambers.


Instead of 15 tests, students will only face five end-of-course exams if a bill co-authored by Rep. Joe Deshotel can gain support in the state Senate.

Co-authored by Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, HB 5 passed 147-0 this week in the House of Representatives, with one present who abstained from voting. The bill will reduce the number of high-stakes tests, end the 15 percent rule for graduation and create new pathways for high school students without reducing rigor, the statement said.

“With the passing of HB 5, we understand that we still must teach with rigor that will afford our students the best possible future, and we know that we are all held accountable for the success of students,” said Port Arthur Independent School District deputy superintendent Mark Porterie. “We are appreciative of the fact that the bill reduces the number of end-of-course assessments and eliminates the requirement of the 15 percent rule. And we are very appreciative to Rep. Joe Deshotel and others for their efforts is recognizing that when we feel that a decision will not result in a better outcome for our children, we must stand firm and make a difference.”

Deshotel has worked in conjunction with Memorial 9th Grade Academy, his adopted school, and Principal Lisa Chambers for nearly a year on this bill.

“I worked with Memorial, just finding out what our laws are actually doing to our students,” Deshotel said in a telephone interview. “Listening to some of the issues, it became quite obvious to me that we needed to change direction. So we petitioned the speaker and then worked really hard to get this bill into law.”

The first change to be made, Deshotel said, was to reduce the number of end-of-course (EOC) tests a student is required to pass before graduating from 15 to 5. These tests will also no longer determine 15 percent of a student’s final course grade under HB 5. This is imperative, Deshotel said, because 160,000 ninth-grade students in Texas failed the first round of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test. After the second round of testing, the number decreased to 122,000 — a number Deshotel still feels is too high.

“Before they can graduate, they need to pass this test,” Deshotel said. “But when they fail, we’re taking them out of class and sending them to remedial classes, at the same time that their classes are learning how to pass the next test. So when are they learning the curriculum? They’re not.”

Deshotel said this bill targets students in eighth and ninth grades, since that is the time students began preparing for high school and, subsequently, the rest of their lives. When eighth-graders sit down with counselors to decide which courses best suit their career path, instead of the traditional “4 by 4” plan, they will now be able to choose between four options — STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), business and industry, public services, and arts and humanities. School districts are also allowed to partner with local community colleges and industries to develop rigorous courses to address workforce needs and provide technical training.

“I think it’s going to give kids a real opportunity to excel in the pathways of something they’re interested in from a career standpoint,” Deshotel said. “Currently they don’t have much choice. ‘4 by 4’ offers nothing for people who are artisans or craftsmen — people who want to leave high school and go into the workforce.”

 Memorial High School teacher Holly McKinley said she is glad to see the legislature taking a more realistic approach to preparing students for life after high school.

“At some point, the state needs to quit having a pie in the sky attitude, because the fact remains, not every student is college bound,” said McKinley, who teaches 10th grade English. “We need to keep testing standards high for students who are college bound, and also develop vocational skills for those who are not.”


Twitter: @ErinnPA