Senate Bill 149 Passed, A Chance to Graduate

Senate Bill 149 Passed Providing Students a Chance to Graduate
LockersMay 29, 2015 – Governor Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 149 May 11, effective immediately for the class of 2015. With this bill, school districts can establish an individual graduation committee (IGC) which decides if high school seniors who have still not passed all five required end-of-course (EOC) exams will be allowed to graduate with their fellow students. This bill provides these students an assessment of graduation, recognizing their previous success in school as a factor in receiving their high school diploma.

“While it is critical that the state appropriately holds public schools and districts accountable for delivering the best possible education, we must protect Texas students from being penalized as a result of evolving test standards,” said Governor Abbott.

Each IGC must review several factors, including the student’s course grades, attendance, past scores on state exams, scores on other tests such as the SAT or ACT and whether the student took advanced or industry certification courses. The committee must agree unanimously to graduate the student.

“This bill brings about much needed change in graduation requirements so students who need more flexibility due to end-of-course exams are given a chance,” Superintendent Rod Schroder said. “Our eligible students have proven themselves as capable scholars and deserve the opportunity to receive their high school diploma and continue on with their plans for the future.”

In Amarillo ISD there is an IGC on each campus, consisting of the principal, a counselor, teacher of the content area failed, department head or learning leader, the student and one of their parents. Of the approximately 100 students who still need to pass one or more EOC exams, more than half are eligible for the assessment of graduation.

According to Tracey Morman, director of guidance and counseling, the students who fit into this group are varied. “We have students who fit into all categories. We have students who are ESL, refugee, learning disabled, or who just have difficulty with taking standardized tests,” she said.

A student who has failed no more than two EOC exams in different subjects may receive a Texas high school diploma if they have qualified to graduate by means of an IGC. Under the legislation, a student may not graduate under an IGC if they did not take each required EOC exam or a commissioner-approved substitute exam. Regardless of any IGC action, a district must still provide a student an opportunity to retake an EOC if they have not achieved satisfactory performance on an EOC or substitute exam for that subject.

Eight students at Tascosa High School were eligible to be considered by the campus IGC committee for graduation this first year of the program. These students met all requirements of the program, having failed no more than two EOC exams. Dr. Lynn Pulliam, principal of Tascosa, said, “As long as those students met compulsory attendance requirements, had participated in retesting opportunities, had participated in the EOC intervention classes, and met all other graduation requirements, we recommended they be allowed to graduate with their peers.”

“The assessment of graduation will allow students who have been successful in their coursework, and who have continually tried to be successful on their EOCs to graduate,” Morman explained. “With a high school diploma we work towards helping our students find living wage jobs and professions.”

SB 149 also allows a student who did not pass the Algebra I and/or English II EOC exams a second time to use the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) assessment to meet the EOC requirement for the corresponding course. A student must receive a TSI score indicating readiness to enroll in entry-level freshman coursework.

State Senator Kel Seliger of Amarillo sponsored SB 149. The new law is effective for two years. The 2017 Legislature will decide whether to continue the graduation committee reviews, or to allow the law to expire.

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