In the midst of ongoing anxiety over the implementation of the new state student assessment system, education leaders in the state Senate told the Texas Education Agency today that it had the power to waive a requirement that the new tests count toward 15 percent of high school students' final grades. (Download the letter to the left.)
Many school officials and parents have asked the agency for a delay of the exams' consequences for students. Thus far, the agency has said that it does not have the legal authority to modify the policies surrounding the 15 percent requirement, which many school districts are still figuring out how to apply. Education Commissioner Robert Scott recently caused a stir when he told 4,000 school administrators that standardized testing in Texas has become a "perversion of its original intent." Scott said he believed the new system would ultimately be an improvement over the current one, but he expressed concerns about how the transition was playing out in classrooms.
Among the four senators that signed the letter is Florence Shapiro, who has strongly opposed any retreat from the rollout of the STAAR exams in the past. The letter of intent, from Shapiro but also signed by Sens. Royce West, Kel Seliger and Dan Patrick, says they support a waiver as a way to ease the transition into the more challenging exams for school districts and students.
"In the last couple of weeks, there's been a lot of angst and anger, and I'm hoping with this it will temper things a little," Shapiro said, adding that it was never lawmakers' intent that ninth graders had unintentionally been singled out by the transition to the new system. She said that it was also unfair for students to feel the consequences of the new exams while school districts will be given a one year reprieve from having their scores factored into accountability ratings.
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The letter makes clear that the lawmakers do not back any change in the requirement that the exams be a part of graduation requirements, and that the measure should be regarded "solely as a transition" to the new system — not a abolition of the requirement altogether.
A spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency said that the commissioner was currently reviewing the letter and could not give a timeline for when he might respond.
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