Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sticking With GPA is Smarter Than Make or Break

O. Ricardo Pimentel, Express-News columnist

Stay tuned, everybody, to Patricia Lopez' dissertation research on HB3 that lays bare the who, what and how behind the new STAAR system of accountability and testing.  Her work builds on the work of the Texas Center for Education Policy at UT-Austin, as well as earlier efforts that  began over a decade ago in tandem with key community players like NAACP, LULAC, MASBA, the GI Forum, MALDEF (that spearheaded the federal trial [by Atty. Al Kauffman]), numerous scholars—including Drs. Linda McNeil, Richard Valencia, Kris Sloan, Gary Orfield and myself and other individuals and groups with challenges to TAKS and high-stakes accountability.  It has been a long, hard-fought struggle but fortunately, we were able to eliminate high-stakes testing for third-graders in the state of Texas.  This latest iteration, among other things, consists of 12 end-of-course exams, 45 testing days, and a contaminating of GPA (that this piece covers really well), by all trustworthy accounts, is simply headed in the wrong direction.  You will not find any national professional organization of any repute that supports high-stakes testing--regardless of the fact that all states have them now for schools as a result of NCLB.  Even the testing companies themselves say that tests should never be used in the way that they have been, and are continuing to be, used. Texans need to insist on research-based, fair and equitable approaches to student assessment and evaluation  Much of this has been documented for quite sometime in this blog. There is a search function at the bottom of the page that will give you access to information over the years, from legislative session to legislative session.

So yes, folks.  More to come.


The goal of the new high-stakes STAAR testing that Texas will launch in the spring is purportedly to increase the college readiness of the state's students.
Unfortunately, it's entirely likely that this testing will diminish what is the single best indicator. That would be grade point average.
With the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, high school students and their parents are supposed to be comforted by the removal of a single high-stakes test that determines a diploma.
But in its place will be 12 end-of-course (EOC) tests — still high stakes, but in 12 installments. Fail to reach a minimum score on a single EOC and it doesn't count toward the cumulative scores of all EOCs. Don't reach this cumulative and you don't graduate. Fail to reach the minimum passing score for some classes and you don't get a “recommended” or “distinguished” high school diploma.
In furtherance of a noble goal, college readiness, we're embarking on a testing arms race that will require more testing days and a spreadsheet to know if you're on track or not. But why? The best predictor of college success is just plain ol' high school grade point average.
“High school grades are sometimes viewed as the least reliable indicator than standardized tests because grading standards differ across schools,” says a 2009 paper. “Yet ... grades still outperform standardized tests in predicting college outcomes.”
Writing this were Richard C. Atkinson and Saul Geiser. Atkinson is a former president of the University of California system and Geiser is a respected research associate at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley.
They were talking mostly about SATs and ACTs. They wrote that standards-based assessments in high schools hold promise but said even these have had problems as predictors. They point to GPA as still most determinant.
The potential with STAAR's 12 end-of-course tests through three high school years is that GPA becomes “contaminated.”
This is a word used both by Patricia Lopez, whose doctoral dissertation at the University of Texas is on STAAR, and Angela Valenzuela, who has studied high stakes testing as a UT professor and director of the Texas Center for Education Policy. Lopez is also a research associate at the center.
They explain that these EOCs will count for 15 percent of grades in those core courses. And what is tested is also a problem.
“What is the test really telling you if 65 percent of the test is focused on 30 percent of the curriculum?” asked Lopez.
Lopez also noted that this potentially undercuts the state's 10 percent rule — dictating that the top 10 percent in high schools qualify for admission to the state's top public universities.
Why then is Texas doing this (and, by the way, without adequate funding, either for remediation or testing)?
Let's just call it the triumph of what sounds good — high standards and the teeth to enforce them — over what is actually good.
Needed here: The realization that many factors determine college success — GPA key among them, successful course completion counting for much but testing, perhaps, counting for least of all.

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