The architect of a new Texas law overhauling high school standardized testing and curriculum requirements urged the State Board of Education on Friday to leave implementation up to local school boards whenever possible.
The board will meet in August to begin hammering out new curriculum standards under House Bill 5, which passed the Legislature unanimously and reduces from 15 to five the number of standardized tests high school students must pass to graduate. It also modifies course requirements in an effort to give more flexibility to youngsters who want to focus on vocational training, not just rigorous academic and college-prep classes.
"Intentionally the bill was designed for this body to fill in the details," sponsor Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, a Killeen Republican who chairs the House Public Education Committee, told the board. He later added: "The decision was a conscious one on the part of the Legislature to dump this, if you will, in your lap."
Critics worry that Texas, which had been a national leader in strict academic standards based on frequent testing, is retreating from that model while watering down its academic standards.
"This bill calls for something of a culture change," Aycock said. "What this bill calls for is a less prescriptive nature to education."
Aycock also worried that as the board grapples with implementing the law, its members may make certain electives part of the required curriculum.
The law replaces standards that had required students to take four years each of math, science, social studies and English, and Aycock urged the board not to simply reinvent the old system by piling on additional requirements -- including more credits in social studies or speech. He said the board should not mandate such inclusions but leave them up to local school boards.
The overhaul became one of the legislative session's top priorities amid backlash from students, teachers, parents and school administrators who worried that Texas was over-testing students. Aycock called the clamor to reduce exams "an interesting episode in grass-roots politics."
Also Friday, Aycock's counterpart in the state Senate, Dan Patrick, said he's not buying the assessment that a left-for-dead curriculum system known as CSCOPE may live again.
CSCOPE offered internet-based lesson plans and exams designed to help teachers adhere to state curriculum, especially those working in small districts. It had been used in 877 school districts statewide.
But CSCOPE was criticized by conservative grassroots groups, who said some of the lessons it offered were anti-American. Under pressure, CSCOPE's creators agreed to remove online lessons in August, and Patrick -- a tea party favorite from Houston who chairs the Senate Education Committee -- declared the CSCOPE era over.
However, the Board of Education heard Wednesday from a top Texas Education Agency attorney who suggested that CSCOPE has simply been moved into the public domain. That would scrap previous intellectual property concerns, meaning any school district who wanted to could continue to use the curriculum system.
Patrick, who is running for lieutenant governor, posted Friday on Facebook: "We disagree with his analysis, but are checking further into this matter."
"I urge parents to monitor closely the decision of their districts who attempt to use any public domain material whether it is CSCOPE or another program," Patrick wrote, "and to make sure their voice is heard."