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Texas Senate
February 19, 2015
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The Texas Senate
Senator Kel Seliger of Amarillo laid out his plan to allow an alternate path to graduation for students who haven't passed all required end of course exams.

(AUSTIN) — High school seniors who have passed all their classes but are ineligible for graduation due to failing assessment exams could have another way to graduate under a bill considered by the Senate Education Committee Thursday. Currently, Texas public school students must pass five end of course exams, called STAAR tests, in a range of subjects to graduate from high school, but Senator Kel Seliger of Amarillo worries that qualified students who are ready to receive a diploma might be unfairly held back by high stakes tests. "Just as we'd never want a student to fall through the cracks, we don't want there to be any artificial impediments to the students graduating," he said. "I think our accountability system is increasingly becoming a good one, we should not treat it as though it's a perfect one or necessarily describes the accomplishments of the students."

His bill, SB 149, would allow schools to create individual graduation committees for students who have passed all their required coursework but have not passed one or more end of course exams by the end of their senior year. The committees would be made up of four people: a teacher, a principal, a parent or guardian and school counselor, and would look at the body of the student's work to determine if he or she is ready to graduate and move on to work or college. All four members of the committee must agree that the student should be allowed to graduate. The committee can also set additional conditions for graduation, like a senior project or remedial course work.

According to the Texas Education Agency, more than 90 percent of students pass all five of the end of course exams required to graduate from high school. Aldine ISD Superintendent Wanda Bamberg testified before the committee that many in that remaining ten percent are ready to move on to life after high school but may not have passed one of the exams. She gave examples from her district of students who perform well in class and are good students but haven't passed all their required assessments. "I think that SB 149 gives us the opportunity to take a child, one by one, look at a case by case basis, and consider that child's coursework, that child's situation and that child's circumstances in making sure that that child can leave us and be successful as they leave high school," said Bamberg. She estimated that of the 390 students in her district who have met all the graduation requirements but assessment testing, as many as 300 would be able to graduate under Seliger's plan. Bamberg said she supports the bill as a limited measure aimed at current juniors and seniors who are part of a group that has seen the school accountability system change too much too fast to let them accommodate to it.

Seliger told committee members that it is his intent to move this bill quickly. The Constitution forbids the Legislature from passing non-emergency bills in the first 60 days of session unless four-fifths of the body consents. Seliger said he hopes this bill can quickly move to the Governor's desk because thousands of students could be held back when graduation comes around in a few months. "Absent legislative action, up to 28,000 high school students will not graduate this year because they have not passed all the assessments," he said. The bill remains pending before the committee.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 23 at 2 p.m.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.