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Algebra II Mandate Eliminated

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Board of Education gave preliminary approval to dropping algebra II as a requirement for high school graduation, over the objections of critics who say the state is watering down its academic standards.

Eliminating the algebra II mandate for most students was part of a major overhaul of graduation, standardized testing and curriculum requirements unanimously approved by the Texas Legislature in May. The shake-up was meant to give students the flexibility to focus on career and vocational training — not just college prep courses.

Much of the debate over the changes has focused on the algebra II requirement. Many academic experts and school administrators said it's a key prerequisite for success both in college and beyond. But some trade groups argued that plenty of high-paying jobs are available without a college degree or high-level math.

Number of STAAR Tests Reduced

HB866 reduces state-mandated STAAR tests from 17 to 11 in grades 3 -8 for students who perform well on STAAR tests; however, this law needs a waiver from NCLB before it can be enacted. 

HB5 limits state-mandated tests to 5 EOCs: English I (R&W combined), English II (R&W combined), Algebra I, Biology, and US History. Two optional EOCs, Algebra II and English III, can be administered at the districts' option.

Many parents believe these high-stakes tests create unnecessary barriers to graduation, take valuable classroom instruction time, and divert significant public funding to a for-profit testing company instead of the classroom. Further, students who fail to meet these high-stakes are barred from admission to Texas public four year universities and colleges. In addition to its economic costs: STAAR imposes other significant costs: teaching to the test, numerous benchmarks and practice tests, remediation classes replacing electives, and students asking "please tell me the right answer" instead of investigating possible answers for themselves.

TAMSA is a statewide, grassroots organization comprised of parents and other community members concerned with the overemphasis on high stakes STAAR tests and the misallocation of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to the tests that should be going to the classroom.

TAMSA advocates the reform of standardized testing:
  • Decreasing the number of End-of-Course (EOC) exams to no more than 3 in the core subjects of math and language arts.
  • Utilizing SAT & ACT tests to determine college readiness, since these are the only tests that colleges - including Texas universities - consider in admissions.
  • Changing elementary/middle school STAAR testing to grades 3, 5 & 8 only for reading and math; grades 4 & 7 only for writing.
  • Allowing nationally recognized tests in lieu of STAAR for grades 3-8; such as Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), STANFORD, ReadiStep (pre-SAT), or EXPLORE (pre-ACT).
  • Eliminating the requirement that EOC exam scores count for 15% of a student's final grades
  • Eliminating performance level requirements for English III and Algebra II EOC exams.
  • Making the Cumulative Score requirement optional.

STAAR Test Relief

House Bill 2836 eliminates the STAAR writing tests for students in fourth and seventh grades, as well as time limits on tests for other students. House Bill 2836 also eliminates the four-hour time limit per test in third through eighth grades and limits the number of local benchmark tests to no more than two per state test.

If the two writing exams are eliminated, students will take their first STAAR writing exam in the ninth grade.

Debbie Ratcliffe, director of media relations for the Texas Education Agency said the passing of the bill reflects the "anti-testing" sentiment trending in the Legislature.

Two local area superintendents believe eliminating the test will not affect writing instruction in the classroom and testing standards make it difficult for educators to teach concepts exhaustively.

"The number of tests doesn't change much, but the most meaningful part is using readiness standards," one superintendent said, referring to the content on STAAR tests aimed at preparing students for college and a career. "Teachers have flexibility to teach readiness standards to a deeper level instead of having to speed through... It doesn't take away the high-stakes nature of the test, but it does adjust them."

STAAR Controversy

Four area superintendents are very critical of the state's latest assessment system, the STAAR tests. They say the tests could derail students' college plans. 

Perhaps, the real issue is the STAAR makes it apparently obvious that the public school systems are not producing students who are ready for college?

The STAAR test is an excellent medium to determine how well a student will perform on the ACT or SAT tests. These statistics are now being elevated to a higher-degree of public awareness. Actual student readiness for college hasn't changed. Perhaps, the public has been enlightened with the STAAR assessment.

STAAR Practice Tests

These State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR™) released questions are samples only and do not represent all the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) student expectations from each reporting category eligible for assessment.