Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Crash Test

Even after this legislative session, there will be plenty of work still to be done in the area of testing and accountability.  Texas is nevertheless trending in the right direction.  For many of us in Texas, as well as outside of Texas, this has been over a decade-long struggle of educating policy makers and our communities of the harmful effects of this system.    Below are key quotes from the May, 2013 issue of the Texas Monthly, summarizing the status of end-of-course testing in Texas where this blog is mentioned (albeit obscurely) as part of what is framed as an unraveling of test-based accountability in Texas:
Longtime observers of education policy are openly speculating that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the accountability movement, right here in the state where it was born. There is no question that the Legislature, which wraps up its current session on May 27, will roll back at least some of the accountability system in Texas. The question is, How far will it go? And how far should it?

He’s even begun to take sharp criticism about his motives, from legislators like San Antonio representative Mike Villarreal, who pointed out that since Pearson is a member of the Texas Association of Business, Hammond arguably should be considered a de facto lobbyist for Pearson. Of course, Hammond lobbies on behalf of the business community in general, which has a vested interest in maintaining a good public school system, but it’s hard to think of a company that the TAB has done more for this session than Pearson. When I asked him about the accusation, Hammond pushed back. “I take great exception to anyone who would impugn my integrity,” he told me. “I have a thirty-year record of being for education reform that goes back to when I was a freshman in the Texas House.”

Kress gave me a report highlighting how well Texas has fared in recent years on the NAEP in comparison with the other mega-states: California, New York, Florida, and Illinois. Yet the report also shows that Texas exempts students at a much higher rate than any of these states (on the fourth-grade reading test, for example, Texas’s exemption rate was twice the national average and six times higher than California’s). Exempting students from the test is meant to be done as a last resort; other remedies, such as longer testing times, one-on-one testing, and simpler tests for some students, are supposed to be used first.

Two decades ago Texas became ground zero for the accountability movement in public education. Now, after a revolt by teachers and parents who claim that High-stakes testing is ruining classroom instruction, the Legislature is poised to undo many of its own reforms. Does anyone have the right answer?
Photo illustration by Darren Braun
During his first run for the White House, George W. Bush called it the Texas Miracle. High-stakes testing in the public schools, along with other measures meant to hold teachers and principals “accountable” for the performance of their students, had closed the achievement gap between Anglo and minority students and boosted overall scores in reading and math. On the campaign trail, Bush touted the reforms—first passed by the Legislature in 1993, a year before he was elected governor—as a blueprint for the nation. And indeed, just a year after he arrived in Washington, the Texas model went nationwide when Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law, in January 2002, requiring all states to create their own testing programs. At the signing ceremony, Bush singled out Rod Paige, his secretary of education, whose success as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District had provided the inspiration for the accountability movement in Texas.
After eleven years of this unprecedented experiment in American pedagogy, during which time student assessment grew into a $1.7 billion industry dominated by a handful of corporations, nobody is talking about miracles anymore. Not in Washington, where the Obama administration has been forced to grant waiver after waiver as NCLB’s ambitious 2014 deadline for states to reach “100 percent proficiency” in math and reading approaches. (In 2011, 48 percent of the nation’s schools failed to meet the law’s benchmarks.) And certainly not in Texas, where the Houston school district’s putative academic successes, including its astonishingly low dropout rate, have been debunked as statistical chicanery. Across the state, a long-simmering anti-testing movement has finally exploded into a full-fledged revolt. And it hasn’t happened only among teachers and administrators, who have argued for years that testing takes up too much time and energy. It has flared up in the demographic that animates public policy more than any other: suburban parents.

Continue reading here.

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