Bill Raises Stakes On School-District Accountability

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The discussion of accountability and assessment started in earnest Wednesday in Austin as Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock filed House Bill 5, which takes a swing at diploma plans, testing policies and district accountability ratings.

To combine all three topics in one bill - which will have to pass or fail on its collective merits -- raises the stakes considerably on these issues. And it puts a lot of moving parts into one bill, one that Aycock says is only a starting point for the discussion on ongoing education controversies.

Among the bill's highlights: a foundation diploma with four different endorsements; the reduction of end-of-course tests form 15 to 5, with only 2 required for graduation; and a revamp of the district accountability ratings that would combine academic, financial and community engagement ratings.

"I think we have picked a starting point for the discussion," said Aycock from the floor of the House, where lawmakers were about to honor Texas A&M University football hero Johnny Manziel. "And I have no doubt we'll be hearing from people who will advocate for more testing and people who would advocate for less. That's part of the process."

Aycock, a Killeen Republican and large-animal veterinarian, replaced Rep. Rob Eissler as the head of the House Education Committee. Eissler, who lived in The Woodlands and served multiple terms in the House, was trounced in the Republican primary by a coalition of groups that backed Tea Party favorite Steve Toth.

David Anthony, the one-time superintendent of Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, now heads up Houston-based Raise Your Hand Texas, one of the coalition groups that will be among those at the table to negotiate a final agreement.

"When I was superintendent at Cy-Fair, I would have loved a graduation plan like the one proposed by Chairman Aycock for one simple reason -- an engaged student is a successful student," Anthony said. "This bill puts students first by giving them a single Foundation Diploma with rigor, but also the flexibility to pursue their own interests and goals. Kids have a natural curiosity that needs to be engaged to keep them on track and in school, as opposed to our current one-size-fits-all system that leads many students to lose interest and leave school."

HB 5 one-pager by HoustonPress

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