State representatives debate reducing focus on academic preparedness in public schools
House Bill 4402 on the House floor today deemphasizes core academic subjects, including history, despite alarming new report on the decline in students’ civics knowledge.
As a new report shows that students struggle to learn basic U.S. history, the Texas House is considering a bill today that could worsen the problem.
Yesterday, a significant decline in basic U.S. history knowledge among middle school students nationwide was revealed in data released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The report shows that only 14% of American eighth graders meet at least proficiency standards in U.S. History, while a staggering 40% fail to meet basic standards.
The data is mirrored in the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exam, which reveals that just 29% of Texas 8th graders met grade-level expectations in social studies in Spring 2022. This figure drops even further for economically disadvantaged students, with only 18% meeting grade-level expectations. Among racial groups, Hispanic and Black 8th graders have the lowest percentage of students meeting grade-level expectations, at 21% and 18%, respectively.
At a time when students need to understand our shared history, our common values, and our founding principles, the Texas House is debating today House Bill 4402, which would undermine the state’s public school accountability system. This bill seeks to deemphasize academic preparedness and instead incorporate alternative indicators, including extracurricular and cocurricular activities while capping how much of a school’s rating can be based on student academic readiness.
If passed, HB 4402 will reduce the value of social studies performance in a school’s accountability rating, as well as student performance in reading, math and science. Replacing this singular focus on academic readiness with extracurricular and cocurricular activities is concerning, as it has the potential to inflate school ratings artificially, as happened in Louisiana, where 99% of elementary and middle schools received an “A” for this measure despite only 28% of Louisiana 4th graders being at or above proficiency in reading and just 27% in math on NAEP.
At a time when students need to understand our shared history, our common values, and our founding principles, it is unacceptable to undermine the state’s public school accountability system,” said Margaret Spellings, former secretary of education and current president and CEO of Texas 2036. “HB 4402 would deemphasize academic preparedness and reduce the value of social studies performance in a school’s accountability rating. This measure is concerning, as it risks artificially inflating school ratings while failing to prioritize U.S. history knowledge, which is crucial for informed citizenship.”
In Texas, 87% of campuses in the state are currently rated as As and Bs in our public school accountability system. Yet, despite this, 48% of students cannot read at grade level, and 60% cannot do math at grade level. This stark contrast highlights the need for a strong accountability system that prioritizes academic preparedness, including U.S. history knowledge.
HB 4402 risks undermining the state’s public school accountability system at a critical time when students need to learn about our shared history and values,” said Mary Lynn Pruneda, senior policy advisor at Texas 2036. “While extracurricular activities have their place in a well-rounded education, they should not come at the expense of basic reading, math, and history/civics knowledge. We owe it to our students to prioritize the academic foundations that will prepare them for success in college, career, and life.”
In February 2023, the Texas Voter Poll showed that just 23% of Texans supported proposals to eliminate state standardized testing in American history, with 69% of voters opposing the proposal. Earlier versions of HB 4402 sought to eradicate such testing, while the current version reduces the value of social studies performance in a school’s accountability rating, as well as the value of student performance in math, science, and reading.
Love this blog? Support our work.