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Friday, March 23, 2012

States (not Florida sadly) push back against standardized tests

From the Washington Post's Answer Sheet, by Valerie Srauss

More than 100 school districts in Texas have passed a resolution saying that high-stakes standardized tests are “strangling” public schools, the latest in a series of events that are part of a brewing revolt in the state where the test-centric No Child Left Behind was born.

State-mandated standardized testing has become so dominant in Texas that, according to Denise Williams, testing director of the Wichita Falls Independent School District, high school students are spending up to 45 days of their 180-day school year taking them, according to the Times Record News. Students in grades three through eight spend 19 to 27 days a year taking state-mandated tests.

In Texas this spring, students starting in grade three are taking new exams called the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, which are supposed to be more “rigorous” than previous assessments. In high school, what used to be grade-specific exams are being replaced by 12 end-of-course tests that will be linked to graduation and final grades.

Educators and parents are so concerned that deep budgets cuts could leave schools unable to meet the tests’ new demands that there has been unprecedented talk against testing mania.

Here’s what’s been going on:

First, the state education commissioner, Robert Scott, said the mentality that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be. He also called “the assessment and accountability regime” not only “a cottage industry but a military-industrial complex,” and he attacked the Common Core Standards Initiative as being motivated by business concerns.

Then he agreed to postpone by a year a requirement that the results of each end-of-course exam account for 15 percent of a student’s final grade in that course.

Inspired by Scott, Kelli Moulton, the superintendent of Hereford Independent School District, who was quoted by the Texas Tribune as saying that she was considering not turning into the state Education Department her students’ STAAR results:

“We talk a lot, but nobody’s stepped off to do anything really bold. Clearly now as a state, at least with a leader who is willing to say testing has gone too far, when do we put a stick in a wheel and say, that’s enough, stop? Because we are going to spend the next 10 years trying to slow that wheel down, and we’ve got 10 years of kids that are suffering.”

And now school districts, one by one, are passing a resolution that says an “over reliance” on standardized high stakes testing is “strangling our public schools and undermining any chance that educators have to transform a traditional system of schooling into a broad range of learning experiences that better prepares our students to live successfully and be competitive on a global stage.”

So far, more than 100 districts have passed the resolution (see the full text of the sample resolution below), which asks state education officials to take a new approach to assessing students.

There are about 1,030 school districts in Texas, but the effort has just begun.

So, does what happens in Texas have national significance?

It certainly did when former Texas governor George W. Bush became president and brought with him education policies that he crafted into the No Child Left Behind law, which ushered in the high-stakes testing era a decade ago.

Could Texas influence the country again in regard to testing? We’ll see.

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