House Bill 5 provides relief and flexibility for high school students

During the Texas legislative session, lawmakers overwhelmingly passed House Bill 5. This bill reduces the amount of high-stakes testing from 15 to five and creates multiple pathways for high school students to earn a diploma. Superintendents from across Texas applaud our legislators for listening to our parents, teachers and business leaders who advocated for HB 5. I would like to personally thank Senator Jane Nelson and Representatives Tan Parker, Ron Simmons and Pat Fallon for their support.

Reducing High Stakes Testing Provides Additional Instructional Time
Prior to HB 5, our high school students were taking up to 15 Texas accountability multiple-choice tests in a single year, which is equivalent to one-third of their school year. Not only does this amount of time significantly reduce teaching time, these tests are not important for the college admissions process. In essence, our students were spending much of their high school careers taking tests, most of which are not based on college readiness standards and are not useful for college nor aligned to any career field.

Not only were our students spending many hours taking tests, our teachers and staff spent a cumulative of 4,392 hours last year receiving training on the distribution of the new tests, coordinating the delivery of tests or proctoring tests.  As I share these statistics, I can’t help but think of the instructional time lost where teachers could have been engaging students in a more powerful way than testing. In LISD, we are focused on student engagement, enrichment and rigor. Rigor isn’t a test – it’s about the work our students do.

For our elementary and middle school students, House Bill 2836 was filed to reduce the number of accountability tests. The House and Senate passed this bill; however, the Governor vetoed it. During the next legislative session, I hope the legislators bring back a bill to provide relief to our younger learners.

While HB 5 does reduce the number of tests, the new accountability system has drawbacks. Under the old accountability TAKS system, campuses received a rating based upon 36 indicators. With TAKS, a campus could have a reduced rating if one indicator did not meet standard regardless of the remaining 35 indicators.

Under the new system, campuses are assigned one of two ratings: “Met Standard” or “Improvement Required.” The two ratings are assigned based on student performance as calculated by four indices. Additionally, there are 89 system safeguards. Although the new ratings are an improvement, the system of 89 safeguards is much more complicated. The 89 safeguards make it much harder for campuses to meet standards based upon one performance group.

Because our accountability testing system is an unfunded mandate by the Texas legislature, we are tracking our costs. I believe our parents and community should know how much money LISD is spending as an unfunded mandate.

Creating Pathways for Students to Earn a Diploma
This new law made several changes to the current “4×4 Graduation Plan.” The law is a step forward, allowing students to take coursework aligned with their career and college interests while ensuring they succeed in the foundational requirements of math, science, social studies and English. This law goes into effect for the 2014-15 freshmen class.

With three graduation plans to choose from, Foundation Only, Foundation Endorsements and Distinguished Level of Achievement, each plan requires specific courses. Currently, the State Board of Education is making policy decisions regarding which courses will count in specific subject areas in math, English and science, as well as Endorsement areas. Students who choose to graduate on the Foundation Endorsement or Distinguished Level of Achievement plans must select an Endorsement pathway. The Endorsement areas include: science, math, technology, engineering (STEM); Business and Industry; Public Services; Arts and Humanities; and Multidisciplinary Studies.

Many decisions still need to be made and our hope is that the Texas State Board of Education finalizes their decisions no later than January 2014. As soon as we receive those decisions, we will share that information with our parents. I am concerned that the State Board does not add some courses back into the requirements, which would go against the intent of the legislature and reduce student flexibility.

Overall, HB 5 is a positive change. I am pleased that our high school students will see some testing relief and they have more flexibility in choosing courses that align with their interests. Even though there has been progress, this bill is complicated. Much has yet to be decided and we are focused on staying tuned to all of the State Board of Educations discussions. We hope clarity will be provided soon.

Again, thanks to the hundreds of LISD parents, and parents across the state, which were instrumental in passing this HB 5. Thank you to our LISD legislators who supported returning time to learning.

Dr. Stephen F. Waddell, Superintendent
Lewisville Independent School District

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