Students can earn a second chance at diploma

our state senator

As of this month, young adults who did not pass the standardized test used in high schools from 2003 to 2013, but are still working hard to earn a diploma, will have a new opportunity to obtain a high school diploma.

After years of frustration with the state’s focus on high-stakes standardized testing that culminated in 15 exams required to get a high school diploma - a nationwide high - the Texas Legislature began responding to parent and student concerns about overreliance on these tests.

In 2013, the Legislature reduced the number of State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams students must pass for a diploma, also known as End-Of-Course (EOC) exams, from 15 to five. In 2015, the Legislature created Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs), which include a teacher, principal, counselor, and parent, who can assess coursework and other criteria and recommend whether to award a diploma to a student who passes three or more EOC exams.

This option did not address students who took the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test, used for students who entered 9th grade prior to the 2011-2012 school year (students entering high school in the 2011-2012 school year were switched to the STAAR test). According to numbers compiled by State Board of Education Member Georgina Perez, more than 19,000 students did not complete high school in El Paso County from 2003-2013. Students may have mastered the material but experienced test anxiety, were sick that day, or had a poor night’s rest; students may perform poorly for reasons that have nothing to do with content knowledge or academic ability.

Among those who raised the issue were Ysleta ISD counselor Miguel Hidalgo and other members of my Senate District 29 Education Advisory Committee, one of seven committees that advise my office on legislation and other matters. They worked with students who showed through mastery of coursework and sheer determination that they were worthy of a diploma, yet could not pass the TAKS. Years after high school, these students were still working for a diploma that would help them advance at their company or in the military, attend college, or simply for the pride of achievement.

Last session, I amended Senate Bill 463, which reauthorized IGCs, to add a pathway to a diploma for those students. A school district or charter school in which a student was last enrolled must determine whether the individual may qualify to graduate and receive a diploma on the basis of alternative requirements for graduation. Unfortunately, this process is only in place until 2019 before it expires, and there is no requirement that schools locate eligible students.

The good news is that the Texas Education Agency has completed its guidance for district implementation, and as of this month, school districts are able to offer this new path to a diploma for eligible students. My office will work with SBOE Member Georgina Perez, the Region 18 and 19 Service Centers, and all of the school district administrators in Senate District 29 to make sure that all eligible adults know about this opportunity.

We must protect Texas students from being penalized by one-size-fits-all standardized tests, and ensure opportunities for those who demonstrate educational achievement. This is a big step in that direction.

• •

José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development; Transportation; Veteran Affairs and Border Security; and Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs (Vice Chair).