Some Texas school districts seek testing waivers

January 3, 2013 2:11:42 PM PST
Nearly two dozen Texas school districts are seeking exemption from some state and federal testing requirements as they push to design new student evaluation systems.

The Dallas Morning News reports that the waivers are being sought by the school districts that make up the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium. High-performing schools applied to be part of the group, which lawmakers created in 2011 to develop new ideas for improving public education statewide.

But in a report the 23 districts in the consortium submitted last month to the Texas Education Agency, they said 10 waivers are needed to give them more flexibility to design an updated education blueprint. Their requests include the ability to revamp the way students are tested and the freedom to set their own graduation requirements and decide what school calendar is best for their community.

"You can take the best of what works and use it to improve education throughout the state," agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson.

The state's new education commissioner, Michael L. Williams, is holding off on most of the requests, saying in a Dec. 21 letter to the governor and lawmakers that they will likely be topics discussed during the upcoming legislative session.

The only request he plans to take action on is seeking a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education on the No Child Left Behind accountability requirements.

Still, the consortium's report says member school districts plan to move forward on developing a "community-based assessment and accountability system" that could be implemented by the 2016-17 school year. The system will have a focus on digital learning, meaningful learning standards, multiple tests for assessment, and local control.

Consortium members want to be free to design their own accountability standards, including replacing the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) with testing of new learning standards and random testing.

The group also wants to get rid of double-testing. For instance, the report said that students who perform well on SAT or other standardized tests should be exempt from end-of-course exams.

Also, the schools in the consortium want to be free to expand online learning and have the flexibility to set graduation requirements. A change in graduation requirements will let students specialize in areas like technology, business or art.

"Allowing students to pursue their passions, rather than comply with rigid mandates, will help them discover interests for college and career," the report stated.

The group also wants flexibility in setting school calendars. Currently, state lawmakers set the academic calendar and schools can't start classes before the fourth Monday in August.
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