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House Moves to End High-Stakes Writing Tests

The Texas House Wednesday moved a step closer to changing end-of-course writing assessments for high school students that critics say are overly burdensome and prevent too many students from graduating.

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The Texas House Wednesday moved a step closer to getting rid of writing exams that are tripping up many high school students.

Writing is included in English exams given to Texas public school students at the end of fourth and seventh grades. To graduate from high school, they also must pass state exams in English I and II, both including a writing component. Critics say the tests are overly burdensome and prevent too many students from graduating.

House Bill 1164 by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-Clarksville, which tentatively passed the House on a voice vote Wednesday, removes the writing portion of those exams.  

Under VanDeaver’s measure, students' writing ability would still be tested in the same years, but school districts would be given authority to create their own method of assessment. Students that don’t perform well enough on the new tests wouldn’t be able to graduate.

Legislation passed in 2013 combined the end-of-course reading and writing assessments — previously two separate four-hour tests — into one five-hour mega-exam.  The writing assessment has tripped up the largest share of the 28,000 students in Texas who aren’t on track to graduate because they failed one or more state exam, according to data from the House Research Organization.

Proponents of HB 1164 say the new system would allow students’ writing ability to be judged by a teacher who has seen their work over the course of a full year, instead of a state testing contractor with limited time to grade a number of essays.

School districts would collect aggregate test results for the entire district and individual schools and post them online. The bill's fiscal note says the new system, which would take effect with the 2016-2017 academic year, would save the state more than $30 million dollars by mid-2017.

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