Fifth and eighth graders in the midst of taking their first round of state standardized exams now know that they must pass those tests to move on to the next grade.
Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams announced Tuesday that he has certified that there is enough money in the state's education budget allocated to remedial tutoring, which he must do under state law to allow schools to hold back students who fail their state exams under a ban on so-called social promotion. The ban was suspended for the 2011-12 school year to help ease the state's transition to a new student assessment system.
Initial versions of the 2013-14 budget give the Student Success Initiative about $25.3 million for each year of the biennium. Before the cuts of the 2011 session, it was funded at about $152 million annually.
In a statement, Williams provided several reasons for his decision to certify the money despite the considerably smaller amount available for remedial tutoring. Among his reasons were the use of "strong, peer-reviewed, and research-based instructional tools," up-to-date data that allows parents and teachers to diagnose learning difficulties to individualize instruction for students, and the availability of federal funds and discretionary grants to school districts.
The Student Success Initiative was part of a policy first proposed by then-Gov. George W. Bush and passed by the Legislature in 1999 that requires students in grades five and eight to pass the math and reading sections of the state standardized exams to be promoted to the next grade. Under that law, the education commissioner must sign off on the education budget to ensure that the state has provided enough resources for districts to help the students who do not pass.
Williams' previous testimony before lawmakers had indicated that he would be unlikely to push for more money for remedial instruction for students who don't pass state standardized tests. He has praised the effectiveness of virtual programs in helping teachers and students through the remedial process at a lower cost. And he told senators at a hearing Tuesday morning that such technology allowed the state to get "more bang for the buck."
Williams has taken a different approach than his predecessor, Robert Scott, who threatened he would not sign off on the budget unless the 83rd Legislature restored funding to the remedial tutoring program.