Bill calls for standardized test to graduate

State Sen. Brian Birdwell
State Sen. Brian Birdwell
State Sen. Brian Birdwell

By Taylor Rexrode
Staff Writer

State Sen. Brian Birdwell is proposing a bill to make sure college students get the most out of their education with one more test before graduation.

Birdwell filed Senate Bill 436 on Feb. 8 in the hopes of instituting a standardized test for all Texas public universities.

Birdwell released a statement about the importance of this bill to the success of Texas students and universities.

“For me, this bill is about ensuring that Texans are able to make the most informed, value-focused decision about where to begin a path to a college degree—all while increasing transparency and protecting academic freedom at our institutions of higher education,” Birdwell wrote in an email to the Lariat.

The bill will mandate that all public four-year institutions of higher education administer the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) to students before freshman year and at the end of senior year of college. The assessment was created in 2000 by the Council for AID to Education, and it measures writing, critical-thinking and problem-solving abilities.

According to the CLA website, the tests helps measure “an institution’s contribution to the development of key higher order competencies” and helps “gauge summative performance authentically.” The assessment scores will help parents and prospective students see how well they perform at a particular public university.

Because it is a private institution, Baylor would not have to implement the assessment should the bill pass.

According to Carol McDonald, president of the nonprofit organization Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, Baylor operates under the University and College Accountability Network where consumer information about the university is available. Standardized testing measurements are not available on the network.

However, students looking to transfer in and out of Baylor would have to take the exam, even if they only take one part of it. Students taking summer or winter classes at another four-year institution would not have to take the assessment since it is targeted for students who will graduate from the state school.

“If a student started at Baylor and then went somewhere like A&M, they would have to take the exit exam,” McDonald said. “It makes sense that if the state is going to require something like this, they’re only going to do it at the institutions they own and pay for.”

Dr. Jon Engelhardt, Baylor School of Education dean, said he believes this bill will not adequately measure what students learn during their years at their university.

“There are no standardized tests that give an indication of learning,” Engelhardt said. “They measure things we just know. It assumes that what is measured on the test aligns with learning outcomes of the university. Universities are different in their programs and what they’re trying to accomplish. They aren’t just about English and math and critical thinking.”

Engelhardt said he believes that various kinds of tests would be necessary to show learning since there are different levels of understanding.

“The only way to get a handle on learning is through multiple tests and different kinds of tests to see if you get the same answer,” Engelhardt said. “If you want to know if a child understands, you look at different kinds of understanding.”