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Education Chairman Defends High School Graduation Rates

Committee Chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, took to his soapbox at the beginning of Tuesday's public education hearing to defend the high standards of Texas education.

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, in Austin on Jan. 22, 2015.

A top House Republican on Tuesday pushed back against the notion that Texas public schools are failing to properly educate students.

"The practice is to not get too editorial, but I am going to get editorial today," said House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, as he opened his panel's first hearing of the session.

Aycock said he was troubled by skepticism that followed a recent report showing high school graduation rates in Texas among the top in the nation for a third consecutive year. 

"All sorts of comments hit the news that that graduation rate wasn’t valid. That graduation rate is an apples-to-apples comparison across the nation. It is the standard mechanism that the nation uses to count our graduation rates," he said. 

His comments come amid calls for legislation allowing parents to use public money to send their children to private schools. Supporters of such a policy, which Aycock has said is unlikely to earn much support from House lawmakers, argue that students are too often trapped in low-performing public schools. 

On Tuesday, Aycock also addressed the accusation that the state is "dumbing down education," inviting critics to visit his blog, Rethink Texas, where he has posted a Texas seventh-grade math test and the end-of-course tests that high school students must take before graduating. 

During the last legislative session, Aycock led the charge to pass a bill cutting the number of standardized tests high school students must pass to graduate. The 2013 law also significantly overhauled high school curriculum. It nixed previous standards that required all students to take four years each of math, science, social studies and English geared toward college preparation, allowing more room for career and technology training courses.

Despite a unanimous vote in both chambers, and widespread support from many educators and parents, the changes have come under attack from some business and education advocacy groups as a lowering of standards. 

"Before you throw rocks, please go take those tests," Aycock said. "Texas has enormously rigorous testing and accountability systems, probably some of the most rigorous in the nation. And much of our discussions in the next few weeks will be about whether we are over the top in all those things."

Aycock also said Tuesday that the state should do more to help educators in areas of the state which are struggling.

"The vast majority of our students are doing just fine. I do believe we have pockets where we need improvement. There is always room for improvement," he said. 

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