State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, is calling for reducing high-stakes testing in Texas public schools by doing away with the end-of-course exams that the state requires for graduation.
Van de Putte’s “Texas First PreK-12 Education Plan,” which she announced Tuesday in San Antonio, proposes replacing the state's five end-of-course high school exams with one state-designed assessment. She said that the swap would help cut back on the state’s “overreliance” on standardized tests.
The proposal to further reduce standardized testing could be a campaign issue with little daylight between Van de Putte and her Republican opponent, state Sen. Dan Patrick, the Senate Education Committee chairman, who has supported reducing the number of required tests. But the Patrick campaign was quick to shoot down Van de Putte’s plan, saying it would do nothing to help turn around underperforming schools.
During the last legislative session, Van de Putte called for reducing the state’s 15 end-of-course exams to three — algebra I, English III and writing III. Ultimately, the Legislature unanimously passed House Bill 5, which Patrick sponsored in the Senate. The measure overhauled the state's high school curriculum and testing structure, dropping the number of required state exams for graduation from 15 to five — biology, U.S. history, algebra I and English I and II.
"I want to remove the high stakes from the backs of our students," Van de Putte said Tuesday while touting her plan. "We're going off old paradigms here."
She wants to replace the end-of-course exams with the Texas Success Initiative assessment, which is designed to provide diagnostics of a student’s basic skills and college readiness, Van de Putte said.
"The TSI was designed by a Texas company based on Texas curriculum," she said. "And many very successful school districts offer the TSI to students in high school."
The Patrick campaign’s response to Van de Putte’s plan did not specifically address the Texas Success Initiative assessment proposal. But it criticized her for continuing to "oppose school choice" and took issue with her proposal to reduce the state's reliance on high-stakes testing when it comes to the Texas school accountability system.
While Patrick has said high-stakes testing takes the "fun out of teaching," his campaign pointed out that Van de Putte's proposal to use statistical sampling instead of test scores in the formula the state uses to assess a school's performance could undermine the successes of the last legislative session by compromising accountability requirements on schools.
“Senator Van de Putte is turning her back on Texas students by removing the accountability measures we have in place today,” Patrick said in a statement.
Van de Putte said the state should instead rely on “sampling procedures” to gather student data and use that to determine whether school districts are “advancing quality learning" — an initiative she argues would save the state millions of dollars in testing costs and "free up weeks of instructional time" spent on benchmark testing throughout the school year.
Van de Putte also proposed restoring funding to state programs that support full-day pre-kindergarten in order to increase access.
The Legislature’s $5.4 billion worth of spending cuts to public education in 2011 included a cut of more than $200 million to the state’s Pre-K Early Start Grant program. The fund, which was created by the Legislature in 2000, had funded pre-K expansion in schools looking to extend their programs.
But Patrick spokesman Alejandro Garcia said in a statement that the cost to underwrite "programs without standards of quality" would be too high a cost to the state.
In the proposal, Van de Putte also indicated that she would fight the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires that every child in grades 3-8 be tested every year, because it takes up "too many instructional days" from teachers and students and that she would require that the State Board of Education to evaluate Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills requirements to shorten the length of standardized tests.