The STAAR exams took center stage at the State Capitol Thursday. Two Republicans filed bills that would permanently change the way high school students are tested to graduate.
State Senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, introduced Senate Bill 463 to cement Individual Graduation Committees into Texas law.
An Individual Graduation Committee, or IGC, give students who fail one or two STAAR exams, but otherwise meet all other graduation requirements, a path to graduation.
Students who fail must get the green light from a committee that includes their teachers, parents, counselors and principal.
Students are given the STAAR to test their knowledge at the end of a course, in subjects like science, math, reading and social studies.
“There is nothing magical about the STAAR exam,” Seliger said. “The folks at NASA never took a TAKS STAAR test and yet we muddled our way to the moon.”
Critics, like the Texas Association of Business, say the law allows students who are not prepared for careers or higher education to graduate.
In the last legislative session, lawmakers passed a law that allows students who fail up to two of the five STAAR tests to still get their diploma.
However, that IGC measure was only a two-year deal and the law expires September 1, 2017.
The chair of the Higher Education Senate Committee, Seliger, wants to make the 2015 measure permanent.
In 2015, 28,000 students were ineligible to graduate high school due to one or more failed STAAR test exams.
Sen. Seliger said, “Many of those students had language barriers and were students with severe testing anxiety or had learning disorders like dyslexia. That has never meant that students can’t learn and succeed.”
A senior at Connally High School in Pflugerville, Corey Daniels has failed English I and English II STAAR test several times.
“You come back and you fail it by like five points, it hurts,” Daniels said, “It crushes all your self-esteem.”
Daniels said he’s passing all of his classes and is otherwise eligible to graduate.
Any day now the 18-year-old will get the score from a December re-test, his final attempt to pass.
In the meantime, Daniels said he is being actively recruited by Howard Payne University and working with his IGC to ensure he can graduate in June, no matter the test results.
Rep. Dan Huberty said, “Without a high school diploma a student cannot attend college, they cannot join the military, they cannot get a job.”
The Republican out of Humble, TX filed a companion bill in the state House.
“We spent 13 years trying to get them to graduate and be productive citizens, yet we’re going to say that because they can’t pass one test we’re not going to let them graduate?” Huberty said one of his own children, who is dyslexic, struggled to pass the STAAR exams.
“When you have to sit next to your wife and she tells you ‘you’re an idiot because you guys have unrealistic testing,’ it hits very, very close to home,” said Huberty.
According to the Texas Education Agency, 2% of high school graduates got their diplomas by way of an IGC in the 2014-15 school year.
Huberty said the intention of the bill is to “assess the student’s college and career-readiness as a whole.”
One failed test could have caused Daniels to drop out of high school, but the IGC gave him hope and a gateway to graduation.
Daniels said, “I want to do something and be something, I just can’t see myself not graduating high school and not going to college.”