Gov. Greg Abbott warmed up his bill-signing pen on Monday, approving a measure ensuring that some high school seniors who fail to pass state exams can seek an alternate route to graduation.
"The goal of the Texas public education system should be to ensure all students who graduate from high school or college are career-ready," Abbott said in a statement after the bill-signing. "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 testing standards."
Under Senate Bill 149 by state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, panels made up of educators, counselors and parents will weigh factors such as grades, college entrance exam scores and attendance to decide whether a student should earn a diploma despite poor performance on standardized exams.
About 28,000 students in the class of 2015 still must pass one or more of the five state exams in U.S. history, biology, algebra I, English I and English II required to graduate. Of those who need to retake exams, about half must retake more than one.
Supporters of the bill say it's intended to provide an alternative graduation method for some otherwise qualified students, not as a graduation fast-track for students who did not meet the requirements needed to get a diploma.
Critics, however, have expressed concern about the objectivity of the panels, made up by educators whose schools could be penalized if their students fail to graduate. The plan has been criticized by the Texas Association of Business and the Austin Chamber of Commerce, which argue that it could lead to graduates being less prepared for careers or higher education.
The law takes effect immediately.