Seniors Who Fail State Exams May Have Chance at Diploma

Thousands of high school seniors who haven't passed the required state exams are close to getting a chance at a diploma anyway under a measure advancing in the Texas Legislature.

Thousands of high school seniors who haven't passed the required state exams are close to getting a chance at a diploma anyway under a measure advancing in the Texas Legislature. 

On Tuesday, the House overwhelmingly approved Senate Bill 149, which would exempt high school seniors who meet certain requirements from having to pass all five state exams to graduate. The measure from state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has already passed the Senate. It will now proceed to a conference committee where legislators will iron out minor differences between the two chambers. 

Under the bill, panels made up of educators, counselors and parents will weigh factors like grades, college entrance exam scores and attendance to decide whether a student should earn a diploma despite poor performance on state standardized exams. 

Those who support the measure say that it is not intended to give an easy pass to students who did not do the work to get a diploma — but to provide an option for those who otherwise would be graduating except for the fact that they've failed a state exam. 

But when the bill was heard in committee, some expressed concern over the objectivity of a panel made up of educators who might be docked in school ratings if their students did not graduate. The plan has also received criticism from the Texas Association of Business and the Austin Chamber of Commerce, which argue that it could lead to even greater numbers of students graduating who are not adequately prepared for careers or higher education.

About 28,000 students in the class of 2015 still must pass one or more of the five state exams in U.S. history, biology, algebra I, English I and English II required to graduate. Of those in the class of 2015 who need to retake exams, about half must retake more than one.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.