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In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed, and then-Governor Rick Perry signed, HB 5, a sweeping overhaul of Texas high school testing standards and graduation pathways. Seven years after passage, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies faculty members Dr. Maria Trache and Dr. Yi Leaf Zhang carried out a study to see what affects the changes in HB 5 had on students’ course choices as they advanced into college or move directly into the workforce.
HB 5 was a significant piece of legislation. The law greatly reduced the role of high stakes standardized testing in determining graduation and scrapped the three diploma pathways students could follow toward graduation. In place of the three diplomas, HB 5 created the Foundation High School Program (FHSP) and its endorsements.
Under the FHSP, high school students would enter ninth grade on a core foundation track of courses to receive their diploma, with the opportunity to also complete the requirements for at least one endorsement that interests them. The five endorsements are: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM); Business & Industry; Public Services; Arts & Humanities; and Multidisciplinary. Students can complete one or more endorsements throughout their high school career.
The idea behind the endorsements part of the FHSP was to guide high school freshman into taking courses that matched their career interests as they advanced through high school. The hoped-for end result of endorsements would be students that were more prepared for college or the workplace.
Before HB 5, students' coursework pathways were determined by “levels of academic performance and not in interest or skill set in specific areas,” according to Trache and Zhang.
“Having students think earlier about their future career plans can motivate their academic performance,” they noted.
Trache and Zhang shared an interest in studying the transition between high school and postsecondary education. The authors studied HB 5 because of unique access to Texas school data that allowed them to follow students’ endorsement enrollments and the corresponding course choices, and the idea that “endorsement choices made by students are a good proxy for students' career aspirations.”
With support from the Greater Texas Foundation, the authors are using Texas high school data to examine students’ endorsement choices and what effect they had on the transition to postsecondary education.
After analyzing the data on endorsement choices, Trache and Zhang said that while the endorsement system has its merits, there are risks, especially to students from marginalized groups.
“We would like ISDs and Texas policymakers to be aware of the possibility that endorsement choices may deepen the inequality among students and may affect those with less access to resources,” the authors said. The intentions and reasons behind HB 5 benefited some students, but Trache and Zhang caution that “more is needed in terms of guiding policies and available resources to make sure all students have access to the opportunities created by FHSP.”