Parents, students and several lawmakers crowded into the governor's press room to witness Gov. Rick Perry signing legislation into law that changes the state’s public education system.
While there were a handful of bills on hand, the one that stood out most was a bill that reduces the number of high-stakes exams students are required to take from the current 15 standardized tests down to five.
"Today I am signing a collection of bills--I think there were six different bills there that we are going to sign here--that strikes an appropriate balance between our need for rigorous academic standards and the student's need for flexibility. A balance between our need for accountability and the appropriate level of testing in the classroom," Perry told the crowd.
Lawmakers say this session's set of education bills will end the practice of "teaching to the tests."
The collection of education bills faced plenty of scrutiny over the last 132 days of the session. Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, was one of those pushing to keep the education process rigorous and transparent.
Starting in September, students in the 8th grade will decide on one of five educational pathways that will guide which courses they take or don’t take, and how that applies to their career path as either vocational-ready or college-bound.
"Our students will have, hopefully, a lot of information, and it was important to me to have all of the endorsement plans have that type of rigor in the curriculum," Van De Putte said.
Van De Putte said those pathways should be available to all students.
"We are not going to sell them short by telling some students, 'You may not be prepared for this.' And that’s what I think most of us were afraid of was [to] let our students decide they can cut it. They can reach those heights, you've got to give them those opportunities, but to do it in a very strong, relevant manner," Van De Putte said.
Van DePutte was able to help craft the bills to include dual-credit courses offered by industry partners or community colleges that count towards a student’s diploma. She said teens will also be guided by a counselor during their entire process of picking an educational or vocational track.
Perry said one of the biggest challenges this session was how to reduce the number of high-stakes exams without reducing rigor.
"Texas refuses to dilute our academic standards in any way because our standards are working," Perry said. "Our graduation rates are up, participation in advanced placement courses is up, the need for remedial classes is going down. We made strides in closing the gaps in minority achievement..."
According to a study from the nonprofit Texas on the Brink, the state ranks 50th in population graduation rate.