Thursday, June 28, 2012

State business leaders push back against school testing critics

Business leaders really do need to know their own self interest and they need to pay attention to what the research says about high-stakes testing and test development—that is, if they truly want an educated workforce in Texas.

I agree with this comment:  "The villain isn't parents or superintendents — it's the overemphasis on standardized testing," McCreary said. "Looking no further than their own children, parents know the system is broken."

Plus, so many of us have kids in school and we see first hand what it is doing to our children, their teachers, and how dysfunctional our systems are when geared to a narrow set of indicators. 

Rather than attack parents, administrators, researchers, and advocates, business should form common cause with us.  This could be a win-win situation but it won't happen overnight.  There is no silver bullet here folks and there is indeed a number of things to consider as we look and move forward toward the kind of educational system that we must continue to insist on for the 21st century.

Incidentally, these concerns aren't popping out the blue.  The very birth of this blog was inspired by a statewide movement to end high-stakes testing in the state of Texas.  Not standardized testing, but high-stakes testing, or how the tests are used.

Although the battle began in earnest with the GI Forum et al. v. Texas Education Agency et al., Supp. 2d 667 (W.D. Tex. 2000) spearheaded by Al Kauffman, MALDEF attorney.  And subsequently in the 2001 Texas Legislative Session with multiple criteria bills authored by State Representative Dora Olivo.

She is running for office again, by the way, in Fort Bend County, part of Jackson and part of Wharton—as a result of redistricting.


State business leaders push back against school testing critics

Updated: 11:48 p.m. Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Published: 10:38 p.m. Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Some influential business leaders on Wednesday warned that they would oppose additional money for Texas public schools if efforts to roll back the state's school accountability system move forward.
The Texas Coalition for a Competitive Workforce, which includes the Texas Association of Business and other power players at the state Capitol, said it was pushing back against the parents and educators who are calling for major changes to the new high-stakes testing system, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. Students took the new test for the first time this spring.
"Our opponents are spreading panic, making the problem worse, fanning the flames of concern and alarm," Dallas businessman Bernie Francis said at a news conference Wednesday morning.
Texas businesses argue that they are both a major source of tax dollars that pay for public schools and the end-user of the workers schools produce. They view the high-stakes accountability system as instrumental to ensuring students graduate ready for college or a job.
Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, said that concern among parents was the fault of school superintendents who have "gone about scaring moms."
Dineen Majcher, an Austin lawyer whose daughter will be a sophomore at Anderson High School this fall, said she was offended by the insinuation that parents are being led around by superintendents.
"We are smart enough to see what that system is and is not doing, and we can perfectly understand on our own that it is a badly flawed system that needs to be fixed," said Majcher, who listened to the news conference at the Texas Capitol.
In high school, STAAR includes 15 rigorous new end-of-course exams that ninth-graders started taking this spring.
To graduate, students must achieve a passing average in each of the core subjects. Beginning next year, the scores on those exams will also count as 15 percent of a student's final course grade.
Results released a few weeks ago show that students struggled on the new tests. On the English writing exam, for example, 55 percent of ninth-graders statewide met the minimum passing standard, and only 3 percent hit the college readiness standard that will be required in 2016.
Last week, state Rep. Rob Eissler, chairman of the House Public Education Committee, said at a hearing that he sensed that legislators wanted to scratch the 15-percent requirement.
But if legislators weaken STAAR, Francis said, they won't find support from the business community to put any more money into public schools, even though the state adds about 85,000 new students each year.
Local and statewide business leaders wield an enormous amount of influence with lawmakers, particularly on spending and tax issues. In the past, they have endorsed putting more money into education, and last year Hammond called for using the state's rainy day fund to avoid a $4 billion reduction in state aid to schools.
The business leaders would not offer specifics on what constitutes weakening.
Majcher, who is part of a new parent group called Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, said it was "inappropriate to hold public funding hostage to repairing the problems that we all know exist with the current testing system."
"The testing system is badly implemented, badly flawed; there are a lot of groups, a lot of parents who are working very hard to make positive corrections to that. I would not call that rolling it back. I think when we see a mistake, we make a course correction," she said.
Casey McCreary with the Texas Association of School Administrators said superintendents are actively engaged with their local communities and that their concerns about accountability reflect what they're hearing from parents and taxpayers.
"The villain isn't parents or superintendents — it's the overemphasis on standardized testing," McCreary said. "Looking no further than their own children, parents know the system is broken."
State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said he wasn't interested in getting in the middle of a fight with Hammond and the others. But lawmakers need to maintain high standards without letting testing dominate the classroom, he said.
"Unless we do some modifications of the present strategies, I think there is going to be an even noisier rebellion among parents and educators," said Aycock, who has launched a blog at to gather suggestions for how to change the system.
Aycock said he was particularly concerned that the new tests would prompt more students to drop out of high school.
State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said he was supportive of STAAR and the business community's ultimatum on accountability.
"The business community understands the ramifications of a weak and ineffective education system more than anyone else, because they have jobs that they can't fill, they have workers that aren't skilled, and they have workers that are lacking basics in ... math and grammar," said Patrick, a leading member of the Senate Education Committee.
Patrick said he is open to changes if there are problems but that he hasn't been convinced that the perceived problems are real.
Not everyone in the business community is on board with linking new school funding and the accountability issue.
Drew Scheberle, senior vice president of education for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, said that school districts should ensure that their students are graduating ready for college or a job, particularly when they are asking voters to approve increases in their tax rate.
But Scheberle disagreed with the other business groups that the state should pull back on public school spending. The state has taken $600 million from Central Texas taxpayers in the name of public education and uses it to balance its own two-year budget, he said.
"It doesn't make sense for us to say, ‘Please, don't give us our money back,' " Scheberle said.
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