February 26, 2013
The commissioners, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry or his predecessor, George W. Bush, suggested that Texas - a pioneer of the testing movement - has gone too far in requiring most high school students to pass 15 end-of-course exams to graduate.
Michael Williams, Perry's current education commissioner, has urged lawmakers in recent weeks not to retreat from high standards. However, his deputy commissioner, Robert Duron, said Monday that his boss would concede Texas has "gone too far with testing."
Adding to the list of heavyweights chiming in, Bush's education adviser and former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings agreed during a public forum at Rice University that 15 high-stakes tests was too many.
The blunt admissions from education insiders who span two decades of policymaking could provide momentum for several bills now floating in the Legislature that would reduce standardized testing - scaling back requirements that lawmakers recently toughened.
From four to 15
Last year's ninth-graders were the first to be affected by the law that they must earn a passing average on 15 end-of-course exams in reading, writing, math, science and social studies throughout high school to graduate under the state's default diploma plan.
The number of high-stakes exams in Texas is the most nationwide, according to the Education Commission of the States.
Texas students previously had to pass four exams to graduate.
"Everyone's going to say less testing is better," said Shirley Neeley, the Texas education commissioner from 2004 to 2007. "I don't know what the magic number is. I don't know that there is a magic number. But fewer (than 15) has got to be better."
Neeley joined former commissioners Robert Scott, Jim Nelson and Mike Moses in criticizing excessive high-stakes testing during the Rice forum sponsored by the Texas Tribune.
One closely watched bill by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, the chairman of the House Public Education Committee, would cut the number of high-stakes exams in high school to five.
Sen. Dan Patrick, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said Monday he expects lawmakers at a minimum to eliminate some of the social studies exams.
Patrick, R-Houston, said he plans to ask the education commissioner to put a moratorium on some of those tests - either world history, world geography or both - this spring.
Original intent is gone
Scott, the commissioner from 2007 through summer 2012, made headlines a few months before he resigned for criticizing the state's testing system, saying it had become a "perversion of its original intent."
Scott said in an interview Monday that he didn't think 15 exams was necessarily too many but he was troubled by the high consequences - tying students' grades and diploma to their test scores, especially when the Texas Legislature cut public education funding in 2011.
"In a year when you cut $5.4 billion, you might want to ease off the stakes for a little while," Scott said.
Nelson, a Bush appointee, said after the panel that five exams sounded reasonable, while his predecessor, Moses, said he could support up to eight with four not tied to graduation.
More than 85 percent of Texas school boards have adopted a resolution criticizing excessive testing.
Spellings, who took the Texas testing system national as a key architect of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, said one reason districts want to retreat from accountability is because the results are "embarrassing" - revealing that students are not prepared for college and that poor and minority children trail far behind.
In Texas, for instance, 39 percent of freshmen who enrolled in college in 2011 needed remedial courses, according to state higher education data.
An influential parent group called Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment is lobbying for only two or three mandatory high school exit exams.
"We are appalled at what is now happening in our schools, all in the name of accountability," said Susan Kellner, a former Spring Branch school board member who leads the group.
Read more: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Testing-in-Texas-has-gone-too-far-says-key-4307861.php#ixzz2MVDAphya