Saturday, May 07, 2005

Please, Liberate Our Schools

The issue of priorities in our state is right on target. You just wonder how in the world the state is going to enforce non-suggestive chearleading. I'm very happy to again see John Young weigh in on the testing provisions of HB2. With so much focus on school finance--or should we say--property tax reliefe DESPITE Judge Dietz's ruling on finance equity--so little focus has been accorded to the 13 more end-of-course exams. We'll see what the Senate in its wisdom decides.


Please, Liberate Our Schools

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Sis boom bah. Coming into this session, when Texas lawmakers asked citizens what they wanted them to do in Austin, you know the one request that kept coming up: "Please, regulate our cheerleaders."

You don't think so? So why, instead of laughing the idea out of the chamber, did the Texas House salute Rep. Al Edwards' ban on "suggestive" cheerleading and send it to the Senate?

Here's why: State leaders are so addicted to controlling what goes on in schoolhouses, why not also control what happens on the sidelines?

Yes, we know: Each of these lawmakers has been a stump-speech cheerleader for "local control." But in every way, and with every session, Texas lawmakers exert more control over schools.

In the "age of accountability," this particularly applies to state-mandated testing that drives virtually every waking, working and learning moment in Texas public schools.

Lawmakers in general seem oblivious to how standardization has taken something that should be in living color and turned it to a whiter shade of pale. If they were truly pro-education, rather than pro-standardization, lawmakers would have interim studies on what the overemphasis on testing has done to education, and would be taking the results seriously. Instead, all we get are pasty bromides about "raising the bar" and devising new tests.

Such is the case with House Bill 2, the education reform bill that got sent to the Senate.

For purposes of graduation, it would phase out the exit-level Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and replace it with 13 end-of-course tests in individual subjects.

Bill author State Rep. Kent Grusendorf says the reason for the proposal is that with the all-encompassing TAKS, students sometimes get tested on material they might not have studied in more than a year. That's a legitimate problem with TAKS, but adding more state tests is not the answer.

The answer is contained in another Grusendorf proposal: administering TAKS online. If administered properly, students would be able to take, say, the TAKS math portion when they were finished with exit-level material and when it was fresh in their minds.

The appealing thing about online tests as proposed is that they could be true diagnostic devices, giving teachers and students instant information that shows how they did, what they did right, what they did wrong.

The most important thing is that with online testing entire campuses wouldn't have to stop dead for TAKS. Individually or in classes, students could rotate in and out from the school diagnostic lab.

In the meantime, in addition to making our testing system more diagnostic, we need to devise ways to make one test less of a cataclysmic moment in a student's life.

This week with hearings in the House Public Education Committee, State Rep. Dora Olivo, D-Rosenberg, pressed on in a mission to base the promotion or retention of students on multiple criteria and not just TAKS scores.

Olivo's House Bill 1612 would require schools to fully analyze a student's academic strengths, not just his or her test-taking ability.

To opponents, this sounds like "social promotion." To proponents, it is decompressing the system that puts way too much weight on one moment and on one test score. Why, proponents say, would you want one means of evaluating a student instead of several? Why, indeed.

If parents of schoolchildren were running this state, they wouldn't be worried about suggestive cheerleading routines. They'd be worried about bleaching the vitality from their children's education at the altar of standardization.

They'd also do something about micro-managing schools from afar in the name of "local control."

Young is editorial page editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald. Contact him at

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