Texas Graduation Panels are Flawed, Socialist Irony
Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX)
The Diploma is Yours, Citizen!
As a high school social studies teacher, I stood in a room for hours while a score of juniors took the U.S. History STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) exam. The U.S. History test is the last of five which prospective high school graduates must pass in order to receive a diploma: Algebra, English I, English II, Biology, and U.S. History. These tests are meant to guarantee that students have actually learned what we think they should have learned while in secondary school.
Teachers are split on the merits of these new STAAR tests. While the five tests are an improvement over the previously-mandated fifteen, they take up a large number of instructional days and teachers have little idea of what will be on the exams beforehand, making it more difficult to prepare students. Despite not being a Common Core state, Texas is still caught in the grip of standardized testing mania along with the rest of the country.
However, those who fear Texas' STAAR tests have just gotten a reprieve: According to the Houston Chronicle, governor Greg Abbott has just signed Senate Bill 149, designed by Amarillo-based Republican Kel Seliger, into law. This bill creates "graduation panels" to allow students who failed "one or two" of the STAAR exams to receive their high school diplomas. Students who do not pass all of their standardized tests can be graduated if a panel (composed of a principal, a department head, a teacher, and a parent/guardian/school counselor) decides that the students' grades and attendance are sufficient.
Some teachers are skeptical that these graduation panels will devolve into rubber stamps to pass apathetic students who could not be bothered to prepare for, or try hard on, their STAAR tests. Or, worse, the graduation panels will soon extend to exempt students from other graduation requirements as well, such as passing all core classes or meeting minimum attendance standards. I am worried that "graduation panels" will soon be adopted by other states to help keep matriculation statistics rosy.
Ironically, the graduation panels are the design of a Republican state senator and have been signed into law by a conservative Republican governor. Nothing says socialism like a graduation panel. "The diploma is yours, citizen! Do not fall prey to their elitist, bourgeois standards! Be a comrade and take what is your right!"
For a state that prides itself on free market competition, graduation panels are the antithesis of its oft-heralded capitalist values. Why should students work and compete if they can "earn" a diploma by telling a sob story to a panel of overworked, harried educators?
Already, in desperation to push students through the STAAR tests, some districts are offering outrageous "incentive policies," such as exempting students who pass the STAAR from semester finals in those subjects the next fall. For example, students who pass the U.S. History STAAR exam during the spring of their junior year will be exempt from taking their fall final exam in either Government or Economics class. Students who pass the Biology STAAR exam during the spring of their sophomore year will be exempt from taking their fall final exam in Chemistry.
Not only are these policies anti-competitive, allowing college-bound students to coast and let their studying and test-taking skills atrophy, but they hurt teachers. How can teachers keep students focused if, from day one, many know that they will not have to take a final exam? These students become a distraction in class by trying to socialize while the teacher struggles to prepare the non-exempt students for the final exam.
Texas, for shame!