Saturday, February 17, 2007

Texas colleges made a deal with the devil

Waco Times-Tribune Writer, John Young’s editorial appearing in the Austin American-Statesman today, also appeared earlier this week in the Waco Times-Tribune. This piece responds to the Feb. 2, 2007
“Texans and Their Tests” report out of Inside Higher Education .

- Angela

Texas colleges made a deal with the devil

Saturday, February 17, 2007
Warning to students at Texas state colleges: You are about to get used again. Actually, your term for it might be more anatomical.

Students got used four years ago when, to reduce its share of college funding, the Legislature deregulated tuition. That pleased college administrators, who jacked up college costs.

It was another hurtful wrinkle by which lawmakers could balance the budget with "no new taxes." But a tax on students is what this was.

Now with a new Legislature, colleges stand to play the foils again. Students again stand to be on the receiving end of a royal scam.

Gov. Rick Perry proposes to spend $362 million more on higher education. As a key condition, Perry wants to implement standardized exit-level tests. Yes, standardized testing, that mesmerizing yo-yo of one-trick education reformers.

He wants to tie funding to test scores and graduation rates. He also proposes an initiative to move students through college faster.

Not surprisingly, the idea of new dollars tweaks college administrators' salivary glands. New tests? Where do we sign? We'll just make students pay for them, $25 a pop.

While administrators appear onboard, tongues wagging, those in college faculties have raised an alarm.

Texas Faculty Association president Charles Zucker told Inside Higher Ed, "We've had massive amounts of teaching to the test (in public schools).. . . Now there's a consensus that that has failed, the governor wants to institute the same plan for higher education."

His use of "consensus" is open to debate. If education's quest is to roll out drones who, when drilled under threat of retention, will do certain state-assigned tasks, maybe "accountability" is a success. But we all thought higher education was, well, higher.

As proposed, the plan would not require college students to pass the state exams to graduate. A no-stakes test. So, no over-emphasis, right?

Listen, folks. If money is attached, those tests will be high-stakes faster than Deutsche Bank can convert rubles to yen.

What kinds of tests are we talking about?

Well, let's ask Education Testing Service. It has exit-level tests for college seniors in several disciplines. But a host of disciplines don't have anything. Sounds like new business for what surely will leap-frog cellular phones as the nation's largest growth industry.

This should trouble just about anyone who isn't on the cash end of the transaction.

Standardized testing has become a dead weight on our nation's schools with far less benefit per time and dollars spent than anyone wants to acknowledge.

With Texas leading the way, states have shown they can increase test scores, but not necessarily produce thinkers or innovators.

Speaking to Inside Higher Ed, Bob Schaefer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing warned that with state-imposed testing and economic incentives attached, colleges would "narrow their curriculum to test preparation for the exit exam."

"Test scores may soar, but education quality will be undermined."

The result, said Schaefer, would be "another phony 'Texas miracle.' "

One of two things will happen under this proposal: (1) Time and money will be spent on tests that students know don't matter but which the state says are important in "rating colleges." (2) The state would impress on colleges how important the tests are, and more and more classroom content would be dictated by some far-off test maker.

Presto. You have homogenization and standardization of a once-vibrant creature, American higher education, long the envy of the world.

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