AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday sought to again delay a mandate requiring Texas high school students to have standardized test scores factored into their final grades, and threw his support behind calls to abolish the so-called "15 percent rule" once and for all.
Lowering the stakes when it comes to how students fare on the exams — known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR — has support among Republicans and Democrats. Parents have backed the idea, too, though business groups have expressed concern over schools churning out an educated workforce.
Under the rule, the end-of-course exams must count as 15 percent of a student's final grade in some core subjects. The Texas Education Agency already gave ninth-graders a break from the requirement this school year. Perry's request would get those same students off the hook as sophomores, too.
Students still must take the test — and score well enough in order to graduate down the road. Created in 2009 and implemented last school year, STAAR replaced the much-maligned Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test.
Seizing on federal data this week that showed the state's graduation rates ranking among the nation's best, Perry asked his new education commissioner to again defer the 15 percent rule until fall 2013. He is also championing a Republican bill that would do away with it entirely.
"While we must continue to adhere to our state's accountability system, we must also recognize the importance of local control," Perry said.
Education Commissioner Michael Williams, who Perry appointed in August, said in a statement he was reviewing the proposal but gave no indication of when a decision would be made. School districts can still choose to have STAAR scores counted into final grades, but virtually all took up the agency's offer last year to skirt the rule when it came to ninth-graders.
The rule had been designed to ensure students take the test seriously. But it has angered some young people, parents and superintendents, who say doing poorly on the STAAR exam could hurt grades and make Texas students less attractive to university admissions boards.
One of the state's most influential business groups sees it differently.
Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, opposed the original rule reprieve announced in February by then-Education Commissioner Robert Scott, who has since been replaced by Michael Williams. Hammond said tethering test performance to final grades keeps students accountable and helps ensure they've truly mastered curriculum.
"It's common sense that a final exam should be part of their grade," Hammond said. "That's been the norm."
Despite his disapproval, Hammond said he won't oppose legislation filed by Republican Sen. Dan Patrick that would permanently eliminate the mandate.
Patrick is the new head of the Senate's education committee, and Perry backed Patrick's bill Wednesday. Like Perry, Patrick says each school district should make its own decision on how much weight the tests should carry.
STAAR includes tests for third through eighth grades. And in high school, up to 15 tests will be given at the end of the following courses: Algebra I and II; geometry; biology; chemistry; physics; English I, II and III; world geography; world history; and U.S. history. Those results had been slated to count toward final grades.
STAAR will also eventually be used to help education authorities evaluate the quality of instruction in school districts statewide. The districts, however, had already been given a year's delay as they implement the new testing system.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Education released high school graduation data under a new system that makes it easier to compare results across the country. Texas posted a four-year graduation rate of 86 percent for the Class of 2011, trying five other states for the third-best graduation numbers in the nation.
Perry said "this accomplishment did not happen by accident" in his letter to Williams. Hammond is skeptical of that data, and believes that many students aren't leaving high school college-ready even if the graduation numbers are accurate.
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