Missouri state Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, is a teacher by trade and a freshman lawmaker in the General Assembly. Spencer introduced House Bill 294 in mid-February which requires all high school students in Missouri pass proficiency tests in four core areas before the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will issue a diploma. Local school districts can issue certificates of achievement, but those won't count towards a student's graduation. Spencer's motivation for the bill is threefold, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch .
* The lawmaker says students already take exams to assess how much they've learned. The same tests could be used to ascertain whether students are ready to graduate. The exams also offer a way to evaluate teacher performance and increase the credibility of high school diplomas in Missouri.
* Another reason for the test involves real-world applications of taking tests for job evaluations and advanced professions. Jobs such as doctors, lawyers and accountants require high-level testing on a regular basis.
* Spencer told the Post-Dispatch he believes the added tests are "life skills training." Students must pass a test after eighth grade demonstrating proficiency in math, science, communication arts and social sciences in order to get an official diploma.
* Missouri students can still get into college without getting past the proposed standardized test. A GED, SAT and ACT also gauge how well students do in terms of academic progress. However, colleges could use Missouri's new test as another marker for academic achievement.
* Jeff Marion, superintendent of the St. Charles School District, told the Post-Dispatch, "We already test these kids till they're blue in the face now. … Adding another layer of testing that another body can look at and make some call on is not helpful."
* The bill is not on any legislative calendar for a hearing. Spencer has had feedback from special education teachers that worry students with developmental disabilities won't be able to pass a new test to get a high school diploma. The lawmaker told the news media outlet the test is more of a "guarantee" that the student actually learned something in high school.
* If passed, the new diploma tests begin in 2017-18. Another bill introduced by Spencer would require a high school transitional skills class in which students prepare for life after high school before students are able to graduate. House Bill 292 would start in the 2016-17 academic year if passed.
* Spencer was a teacher for 22 years at Francis Howell School District before his election in November. He attend public schools in Rolla, Mo., before getting his teaching degrees.
William Browning is a research librarian specializing in U.S. politics.
- Teaching & Learning