Despite Sharp Divisions, Dallas ISD Trustees Vote to Oppose Effort to Ease Testing Standards

Last night, the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees approved a resolution "opposing legislative efforts to diminish graduation standards and academic rigor." Basically, they don't like HB 5, the Texas House of Representatives-approved bill that would reduce the number of tests students take to graduate, and basically create separate college- and workforce-ready tracks. The bill is currently in the state Senate.

To be clear, the resolution doesn't really cause any action. Specifically it "calls on the Texas Legislature to amend House Bill 5 to ensure all students are enrolled by default in rigorous, college-ready graduation pathways, and the Trustees commit to adopting local policy that takes this stance should the Legislature fail to act."

Trustee Elizabeth Jones said she doesn't believe that non-college-bound students need less rigorous classes. Since DISD's goal is to help students live a meaningful and productive life, regardless of whether or not they attend college, students should not be put on less demanding tracks. This resolution is meant to be a reminder of that to Austin, she said.

(Update: Jones wrote to let us know she takes issue with this characterization. In an email she explains that the resolution is addressing "the idea that any workforce focused pathway should not be any less academically 'rigorous' (or 'vigorous' if you prefer) and must be maintained for academic robustness and should not waiver from the academic standards in a college-ready pathway." We've excerpted the bulk of her email below.)

"What are we expecting?" asked Trustee Bernadette Nutall. "What is our end game?"

See also: Legislature's Step Backward on School Testing Makes Us Like France, Only Racist

Jones said that the point of the resolution is to make sure "4x4," the Texas Education Agency policy that all students should take four years of English, math, science and social studies, is not decimated. As college readiness and work force readiness are becoming the same thing, she said, all students need the same rigorous curriculum.

Trustee Nancy Bingham said she would not be supporting it, as did Trustee Carla Ranger. Ranger said she appreciates HB5 because it gives students flexibility to follow their interests. "I don't want a rigorous system," she said, "I want a vigorous system."

Trustee Mike Morath suggested tabling the resolution to adjust the wording, but Jones pushed for a vote. "Time is of the essence," she said, "the legislature is in session now."

The resolution passed 5-4, with Bingham, Nutall, Ranger and Trustee Adam Medrano voting against. Now it's just a matter of time to see whether or not Austin responds.

Update on April 29:

Dear Mr. Darby,

Your recent blog reporting of Thursday's DISD Board Resolution did not correctly report the facts, and also did not accurately and correctly portray the salient points.

I am responding to you in my individual capacity, and NOT in my official capacity as a Trustee.

Since your article names me personally, I ask that you please correct the inaccuracies reflected in your Blog article, also recognizing that your Blog article was the basis of a recent D Frontburner related blog post. I would hope that they also correct their inaccuracies as well, especially since they stated that you interviewed me, which you did not.

That said, as the main author of the Resolution, I'd like to make sure you understand the main point of the DISD Board Resolution. The Resolution's point to the Legislature is the ensuring of high academic standards. DISD supports HB5's creation of different pathways. If done properly with the highest academic standards (and the related funding), this approach will afford our children the opportunity and flexibility to custom design their own education. What was being addressed in the Resolution is the idea that any workforce focused pathway should not be any less academically "rigorous" (or "vigorous" if you prefer) and must be maintained for academic robustness and should not waiver from the academic standards in a college-ready pathway.

Specifically, it is imperative that high academic standards be maintained in math and science and the achievement levels and rigr are not diluted, especially given that the majority of 21st Century "skilled" labor jobs require these very learning foundations.

The title of your Blog references "Testing Standards". This is incorrect. The Resolution is specifically about raising Academic Standards for all secondary education academic pathways, whether college readiness or workforce readiness. The Resolution also states that the default pathway for our children should be the one that requires the highest academic standards and requirements, not the lowest.

Workforce readiness pathways are currently assumed in HB5 to equate to lowering academic rigor and performance requirements. In today's world (and the data and evidence clearly shows this) academic standards preparing children for college readiness are the same as for workforce readiness. That's the main point to the Legislature. We should be preparing our children for their success and should not be limiting their potential. How we structure and what the academic standards are secondary education pathways are therefore equally important, as are the assumptions used in the decision-making.

Please tell Jim Schutze hello, and that part of the development of the High Academic Standards Resolution was in part due to his recent commentary that I take to heart. He wrote that we should "teach kids that they must strive to break through every barrier and take their places not at the bottom, not at the middle but at the top of American society. Because that is the American way. It is not just a mistake and a waste of human potential to steer children toward lesser destinies. It's a sin and a betrayal of all that is truly American." I most certainly agree. The Board Resolution's point takes this one step further. We state that it would also be a mistake to lower academic standards for any secondary education academic path, especially if that path is tied to creating a legitimate 21st Century workforce readiness option.

DISD previously passed two Board Resolutions that may be of interest to you, one on High Stakes Testing and one on Vouchers. I encourage you to read both to understand our official position on those two issues...

It is especially important as a matter of proper governance to respect that once a Board action has been voted, the Board's stated position is a unified one, one that supports the action as voted. The Board President is the official spokesperson for the Board, and individual Board members should not be publicly criticizing after the official vote has been taken. All Board members sign the voted Resolution.

I hope that you will correct the record accordingly. Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.

With kind regards Elizabeth Jones

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Luke Darby
Contact: Luke Darby