PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

March 5, 2013

Bill targets 'teaching to test'

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

AUSTIN —

Representative Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) has filed House Bill 1423, a bill that would facilitate a number of changes in the educational system if passed.

Over the past year and a half, I have listened to the concerns of parents, students and educators about our public school’s broken accountability system,” Deshotel said in a statement he released in support of HB 1423. “This bill maintains rigor and accountability while expanding the number of pathways to graduation for high school students. The elimination of ‘teaching to the test’ and giving more options to students should decrease our dropout rate and increase workforce readiness.”

The bill has garnered the support of local administrators.

The Port Arthur Independent School District is supportive of HB 1423 to end high-stakes testing, while maintaining that we are cognizant of the fact that school districts must be accountable for the academic success of all students,” said PAISD deputy superintendent Mark Porterie. “We also support Rep. Joe Deshotel’s key points regarding HB1423 while recognizing that districts must maintain rigor and accountability while expanding the number of pathways to graduation for high school students. When we study the Texas College and Career Readiness Standards, we see where the state is moving to more pathways to ensure all students’ success.”

If passed, HB 1423 would redefine higher education as four-year universities, two-year colleges and technical schools, as well as requiring high school guidance counselors to provide students with information regarding post-secondary opportunities in all higher education. School districts would be authorized to use high school allotment funding for workforce readiness programs, and the Texas Education Agency would adopt nationally recognized, norm-reference tests consistent with the requirements of No Child Left Behind for students in grades 3-8.

Rep. Deshotel has really looked at and listened to what educators and community leaders from across the state are saying,” said Bridge City Independent School District superintendent Mike King. “His bill gives us flexibility both in graduation plans and cuts down on the amount of testing that is required. School districts are not afraid of accountability. We hold our kids accountable every day. But let’s get an accountability system that looks at the broad range of what it takes to educate kids.”

Most of all, HB 1423 would eliminate high-stakes testing as a graduation requirement — namely, the end-of-course (EOC) tests administered at the end of the school year. These tests comprise 15 percent of the student’s overall course grade.

Kerri Hays, who teaches journalism at Nederland High School, said HB 1423 would have a positive impact on her program. Because of the current “4 by 4” program in place, which requires students to take four years of each core subject, electives such as the one taught by Hays have suffered.

More kids are going to be able to take my classes,” she said. “Once they went to the 4 by 4 plan, kids were being more selective about what classes they could take. If you have a kid who’s in the honors band, then that’s a double block class. When they first start, they have four core classes they have to take, plus two for band, and that only leaves one class they can take. They have to either bump themselves down from a band that they deserve to be in so they can stay in an elective like journalism — or they have to choose not to be in journalism.”

The bill would also grant students the flexibility to take classes that are more applicable to their future plans, Hays said.

I’m not going to have the kids that generally need to have pre-calculus,” she said. “My kids generally are going to go into a more liberal arts designed class. So with that new field, they’ll be able to select classes that will help them more in college. And right now we have kids that are in welding and auto tech and things like cosmetology. We have to have people who can fix cars and weld and build, and I don’t think it’s right that we’re negating those people.

We’re saying that you’re not good enough if you’re just going to be a welder. That’s not the case. Those kids are not stupid. Their brain just doesn’t work in calculus terms, and they know they’ll enjoy welding.”

Sierra McAnally, a sophomore at Nederland High School, is an aspiring nurse practitioner. McAnally said she intends to take a Heath Occupations Students of America (HOSA) class next year that will prepare her for her chosen field. However, she said, other friends who share her goals have not been so fortunate.

I have some friends that wanted to take HOSA, but they’re so busy doubling up because they didn’t pass certain classes that they just don’t have any extra time to,” McAnally said. “ And a lot of kids don’t have the money to go to college, so they don’t necessarily need to be taking pre-cal or AP Biology. I just think it opens a lot more opportunities and helps you know more what you want to do when you get older — not just have a bunch of ideas floating in the air.”

King said the bill will greatly benefit students who do not necessarily plan to attend college.

"I support kids that are wanting to, obviously,” he said. “But the 4 by 4 plan basically limits what districts can offer for kids who may not want to go to college, and it doesn’t allow them to take classes in high school to prepare them for that. But this bill offers some pathways that get them ready for college, but also get them ready for work.”

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA