New law gives Texas high school seniors 'second chance' to graduate

SB 149 creates path to graduation for students who can't pass portions of STAAR tests

SAN ANTONIO – Graduation day is just around the corner for Texas high school seniors and a new law signed by Gov. Gregg Abbott this week will allow more students to walk the stage with their classmates.

Senate Bill 149 allows students who failed two of the five End of Course State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests to still graduate if they have completed all of their required course work.

Dr. Kimberly Ridgley, director of guidance and counseling at Northside ISD, applauded the signing of SB 149 and the second chance it gives 28,000 seniors across the state to graduate, 250 of them who are enrolled in NISD high schools.

"It's a great thing for kids," Ridgley said. "It gives kids an opportunity to demonstrate postsecondary readiness that's not hinging on one test or two tests."

The class of 2015 is the first required to pass the STAAR End of Course exams to graduate.

Abbott said SB 149 protects students from being penalized for not passing all five exams and gives them a path to graduation.

"This gives students with a high test anxiety and some of those other factors that prevent them from being successful on a single test to demonstrate proficiency," Ridgley said. "It gives them an opportunity to showcase that they're well-rounded students and prepared, not that it's just about a test or test preparation."

At Brandeis High School, the new law will impact about 15 students and guidance counselors are really crunching to make sure they meet all the requirements to graduate on time.

While SB 149 provides seniors a second chance, it is not a free pass. 

Students must go before graduation committees and present their case for why they should be allowed to graduate.

Forming those committees in the next three weeks is the big challenge for Brandeis and other schools.

"We're excited about the challenge," said Jason Schmidt, academic dean at Brandeis. "We need to send out letters, we need to contact parents, we need to make sure we have the right people sitting around the table when it comes time to talk about the things the student has done to show they've mastered the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)."

Schmidt and head counselor Bill Hill are forming the committee that will hear the students' cases at Brandeis and take into account their overall performance.

"The issue here is if we can show that the student gets or understands the TEKS and can show us that in another way, such as through a portfolio or through passing their classes," Schmidt said. "If we can show that this student has worked at it then we do want to get that student to cross the stage."

Hill said the law should take off some of the pressure for all kids to pass the STAAR but it doesn't mean schools are doing away with standardized testing.

"We believe in standardized testing and we believe that it does, for a majority of students, show, yes, they've done what they're supposed to do in high school and they can then go forward, but there is that group of students for whom portfolios, alternate methods of assessment, really are appropriate," Hill said. "There are some students for whom that one day of one test isn't an accurate indicator of that student's skill and their ability and their effort and we look at that student on an individual basis, taking into consideration all the things they've done."

Hill and Schmidt say the new law still achieves the same goal of helping students graduate.

"This gives them that opportunity to go forward and move forward with their lives and to show that level of accomplishment in a way other than just what a standardized test might show," Hill said. "You get to graduate because you worked hard, you get to graduate because you've done what is expected of you."

About the Author: