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Aycock Proposes New Testing, Graduation Requirements

Newly appointed House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock filed legislation Wednesday that would restructure the state's high school graduation and student testing requirements.

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, with Speaker Joe Straus R-San Antonio on May 20th, 2011

State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, the newly appointed chairman of the House Public Education Committee, filed legislation Wednesday that would restructure the state's high school graduation and student testing requirements.

Aycock's proposal, House Bill 5, would move public schools to an accountability system with grades of A through F, a concept that has drawn support from Sen. Dan Patrick, the Houston Republican who chairs the upper chamber's education committee, and Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams. It would also significantly reduce the number of standardized tests students must pass to graduate.

The legislation removes a requirement that graduating students must achieve a certain cumulative score across 15 end-of-course exams and changes the number they must take to five in reading, writing, biology, Algebra I and U.S. history. Students would be able to count satisfactory performance on Advanced Placement, SAT or ACT exams toward graduation requirements. It also expands the diploma options available to high school students, allowing them to earn "endorsements" with focuses on areas of studies like humanities, science, engineering, technology and math, or business and industry.

"House Bill 5 will improve education in Texas by better equipping schools to meet students' individual needs," Aycock said in his announcement. "The filing of this bill is the first step in a very important conversation about the quality of both our schools and our workforce."

He said that every member of his committee had signed onto the bill, which is co-authored by two Democrats and two Republicans.

The legislation marks a concerted effort in the lower chamber to influence education policy this session. On the opening day of the session, Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, addressed the concerns of parents and teachers in saying that that state has "sacrificed classroom inspiration for rote memorization" and called on members to make the state's accountability and student assessment system "more appropriate, more flexible, and more reasonable."

Senators, including Patrick, have also focused on revamping student assessment and high school graduation requirements. Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who chairs the Senate's higher education committee, has put forward a  proposal similar to HB 5. Patrick passed legislation out of his committee last week that would eliminate a rule that requires state end-of-course exams to count toward 15 percent of students' final grades. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, along with state Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, has also filed a measure addressing concerns about student assessment and accountability.

The momentum for reform comes as more than 800 Texas school boards in the state have passed resolutions condemning the role of high-stakes tests in public education amid outcry from parents and confusion from school districts as the state transitioned to a new assessment system this spring.

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