Are we finally seeing the beginning of the end of high stakes testing in the very state that invented the notion? Here in Texas we are known as the originators of NCLB, a brainchild, I am told, of former President George W. Bush’s educator wife, Laura Bush.
High stakes testing, or testing of school children so that they may advance to the next level, or even graduate, was invented here in Texas. Yes, this is a Texas brainchild, or as known in the other 49 states, a national nightmare.
First we had arrays of tests that were mainly benign. I used to call the Texas TAAS test a test of what every 10th grader knew about the 8th grade. But it got harder when the state legislature installed TAKS, a series of four tests over English Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies.
These tests were more problematic among the students from distant shores, language issues and the like, or those students that are more challenged and can’t grasp the difference between density and diversity.
They sound similar, you see.
But the Texas legislature, ever raising the bar while lowering the state’s contribution to the education of Texas students, decided in its infinite wisdom to require a new series of tests, to be called End of Course Tests, to be given to students enrolled in the four core curriculum courses of Math, Science, English, and Social Studies.
Tests to be given a new acronym: STAAR.
These tests are built around have a curious formula for success when one considers a student entering the Texas school system from out of state.
But no one knows what that formula for success really is, because last year the Texas Education Agency decided that that year’s End of Course examination, one that took up an entire instructional day, would not count toward the students’ grade as mandated by the law.
And now, as of November 30th, guess what? Again, the Texas End of Course examinations, ones that take yet another day of instruction away from Texas students, will not count a single sou toward a student’s grade this year.
You have got to be kidding. Texas schoolchildren live for grades. They need them, want them. Without a grade on an assignment the work is meaningless. That is what your average Texas student thinks. Kill me if I am wrong.
But now, for the second straight year the Texas STAAR tests have been again relegated to insignificance. Before, it seemed to be the fact that the test was too new and as such should not have an effect on a student’s grade or admission to college. But now, the argument seems to be not so much about the newness, but about the effect on a student’s grade which is still there.
In effect we are finally seeing a parent revolt. Parents are sick of all the manipulation and want to see the end of statewide high stakes testing. Not, of course for any of the right reasons. High stakes testing should end so that we can go back to the business of teaching the curriculum instead of teaching our students how to take those tests. Parents, however, are concerned about their children’s grades and which schools they get admitted to because of the grades.
Still and all, it’s the end result that means the most. If the legislature has finally gone too far and are now affecting a student’s ability to get into A&M, and this will finally mean an end to these tests, we should all embrace the revolt.
So we can get back to teaching.