Seniors who fail multiple STAAR tests can petition to graduate under new Texas legislation
High school seniors who have struggled to pass up to five required standardized tests can now petition to graduate, thanks to legislation that took effect Monday.
House Bill 999 allows a senior who failed any of the required State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams to petition an individual graduation committee, showing alternative work deserving of graduation.
The legislation temporarily expands the petition option for current high school seniors because of learning difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, only a high school senior who failed up to two of the five end-of-course tests but passed all classes and fulfilled other requirements could petition to graduate.
"Thousands of otherwise academically prepared students now have a clear shot at graduating," state Rep. Diego Bernal, a San Antonio Democrat and one of the bill's authors, said in a statement. "After the past year and a half, the last thing that should matter is a test."
Each failed exam requires a separate petition to a committee — made up of the student's teacher, the lead instructor for the subject, the principal and parents — and the committee must give unanimous approval for the student to graduate. Students must still meet all curriculum requirements, according to updated guidance from the Texas Education Agency.
The graduation committees offer students who might struggle with tests an alternative to prove they mastered a subject, according to superintendents in support of the legislation. State law allows students to present a project or previous work to a graduation committee.
Educators came out in support of the legislation, which they said was needed because of the diminished opportunities for STAAR preparation and retakes during the pandemic.
But it was slow to move forward. It received the support of two-thirds of lawmakers from each chamber last week, allowing it to go into effect without Gov. Greg Abbott's signature.
"We had hoped it would have gotten cleared earlier in the process," said Kevin Brown, executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators. "But I think it'll benefit a lot of students across the state."
Students approved to graduate by a committee may participate in graduation ceremonies at the end of the school year or at a later date, depending on the district, Brown said.
In the Elgin school district, the legislation will allow three additional students to walk the graduation stage this week, regardless of their STAAR results, according to Superintendent Jodi Duron.
"It certainly does make it much more of a relief for our seniors and their families who were still in limbo, so we're grateful to have that information in order to allow them to participate in graduation ceremonies," she said.
Bernal and educators had hoped to continue offering the expanded petition option, but the Senate limited it to seniors this school year.
Still, the Legislature passed other bills permanently easing graduation and grade promotion requirements for students who struggle with standardized tests:
- HB 1603, which also passed with support from two-thirds of the Legislature, makes individual graduation committees a permanent option, striking out a previous expiration date of September 2023.
It also authorizes the Texas education commissioner to conduct accreditation investigations when 10% or more of students in a graduating class are awarded a degree through the committee process.
The committees, first created in 2015, helped 17,391 Texas seniors, or 4.9%, graduate during the 2018-19 school year, according to Texas Education Agency data. For the 2019-20 school year, that number rose to 19,756, or 5.5%.
- HB 4545 alters state test requirements to allow students in fifth and eighth grades to advance even if they failed a STAAR exam. It instead requires schools to place students who fail tests in accelerated learning or instruction programs for at least 30 hours.