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Senate Education Committee Discusses High School Graduation Programs and Early Reading Assessments

The Senate Education Committee met on Tuesday to hear SB 3 (Sen. Patrick) relating to changes in high school graduation programs and SB 172 (Sen. Carona) relating to the tools used for diagnosing the reading development and comprehension of kindergarten students.

SB 172 was heard first, with testimony in support of this legislation that would provide another option for districts to use when administering early reading diagnostic instruments, such as the TPRI. The bill would allow districts to select multidimensional tools that assess more than pre-literacy skills (e.g. social development) that could be used when administering the required diagnostic tests to kindergarten students. Districts would be allowed to use their state budget for early reading instruments to purchase the additional assessment tool.

Chairman Patrick then introduced SB 3, noting that he had just received a fiscal note from the Legislative Budget Board in which the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) had added a $4 million dollar price tag. The THECB estimated that the change in graduation programs would lead to an increase in developmental education for an additional 5,953 students. Patrick stated that he would leave SB 3 pending so that he could fight the fiscal note. Sen. West said that the fiscal note showed a lack of confidence from higher education in how public schools were preparing students for secondary education.

Sen. Van de Putte asked Chairman Patrick why the bill was silent on the number of EOCs exams students must take. Patrick stated that he will file a separate bill specific to assessment issues and agreed that no one wanted 15 EOC exams. Sen. West noted that he had heard from several school districts that they currently lack the resources to hire the counselors needed to expand the personal graduation plans to all middle, junior, and high school students as SB 3 would require.

Before invited panel testimony, Chairman Patrick laid out two amendments to his bill. The first would eliminate the cumulative score requirement. The second amendment would require all students to earn two years of languages other than English. Sen. Van de Putte offered a third amendment that would align the language in SB 3 with the language in Patrick's SB 135 that would totally eliminate the 15 percent requirement from statute. As with the bill, all amendments were left pending. 

During public testimony, Dr. Buck Gilcrease, superintendent Hillsboro ISD, testified on behalf of TASA. Dr. Gilcrease expressed appreciation for some aspects of the bill, such as the flexibility that if offers to students and elimination of the requirement that a student must graduate from the RHSP or DAP in order to be eligible for enrollment in a Texas four-year institution of higher education. Gilcrease also noted some concerns. He recommended decreasing the number of EOC exams and requested a careful review of the "distinguished achievement" endorsement since its name implies that the other endorsements are less than rigorous and desirable for students to obtain.