This blog on Texas education contains posts on accountability, testing, postsecondary educational attainment, dropouts, bilingual education, immigration, school finance, environmental issues, and Ethnic Studies at state and national levels. I am also covering COVID in my attempt to get the right information into the right hands.
TCEP Policy Brief: High-Stakes Testing in Texas High Schools: The Case for Individual Graduation Committees and Authentic Assessment
Happy to share with you this Texas Center for Education Policy brief that is germane to a bill that is currently at play in the Texas State Legislature. Senate Bill 463 is about Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs). This brief explains how IGCs are good policy, most especially their implications for holistic, authentic assessment. Proud of the great job our students did on this.
High-Stakes Testing in
Texas High Schools: The Case for Individual Graduation Committees and Authentic
Hartman, Gregory Pulte, Kristina Gutierrez & Will Davies
Center for Education Policy
University of Texas at Austin
High attrition and low high school graduation
rates in Texas are a large and growing concern across the state.Standardized tests, like the State of Texas
Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), are a significant contribution to
this problem.This brief explores why
high-stakes, standardized tests fail students and why Texas policy makers and
educators should turn to authentic assessments instead, including project- and
portfolio-based assessments, which are designed to serve the learning
characteristics and needs of all students, notably those from minority and low
Graduation Committees (IGCs) represent an important opportunity for authentic
assessment to occur within Texas high schools.IGCs provide a much-needed alternative for educators to graduate
students who do not pass EOC, or STAAR, exams.
the case for Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs) and authentic assessment,
this brief first elaborates on the context of the state’s testing system known
as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness
(STAAR).Accordingly, we demonstrate how
testing does not meet students’ needs.The following sections further elaborate the deleterious effects of
STAAR testing on minority, low socioeconomic, and English language learner (ELL)
populations.Among the factors
highlighted are high
school attrition rates, the
language-dependent natures of the tests, and other biases that lead minority
populations to underperform.Concerns
grow out of a recent body of research on the prevalence of testing fatigue and
anxiety, impacting students, parents, teachers, and legislators themselves. Most positively, we maintain, that the move to
IGCs in Texas meets up conceptually with best practices in education related to
Graduation and Attrition Rates in Texas. High, high school attrition rates are a pervasive issue in Texas. One out of every four
students across the state fails to graduate, and 25 percent of students
enrolled as high school freshmen in the 2012-2013 school year left school
before graduating from a Texas public high school. Attrition rates run
high, as 102,610 left Texas high schools between the 2012-2013 and 2015-2016
school years. Additionally, attrition rates for minority students are
substantial. Compared to White students, Black and Hispanic students are
more than twice as likely to leave a Texas school prior to graduation (Intercultural
Development Research Association [IDRA], 2016).One of the factors that contributes to low completion rates and high
levels of attrition is standardized testing, including the STAAR (see Valenzuela,
2004, who makes a cogent argument in the context of Texas’ earlier high-stakes,
standardized test, the Texas Assessment for Knowledge and
Skills [TAKS]; also see McNeil & Valenzuela, 2000).
Part of the problem demonstrated with
standardized testing is that the test assumes a one-size-fits-all approach,
relying on the assumption that all students come to school with the same
abilities and opportunities to learn to perform equally well on the test. The
reality is that teachers face a huge variation in student abilities,
backgrounds, cultures, and characteristics across a single classroom (Moores,
2013).Test results, like those from the
STAAR, are often invalid and unreliable and underestimate the academic
attainment of the test taker, especially among disabled and English language
learner students (ELLs) (Cook, Gerber, & Semmel, 1997; Moores, 2013;
Aside from linguistic bias against ELLs who are
tasked to test in a language that they do not master, standardized testing is
culturally biased because tests reflect the culture of those who designed the
test, meaning whites from middle- to upper-socioeconomic statuses (Phillips,
2006).Hence, students who are affluent
and members of the majority will more easily understand standardized tests and,
as a result, achieve higher scores on them than students who are members of
minority and low socioeconomic groups. These
tests do not necessarily reflect students’ actual intellectual
abilities (Phillips, 2006).Students’ language proficiency in the testing language, as mentioned,
also plays a substantial role in student performance.Standardized tests are written in English,
which results in non-English proficient students, who are otherwise capable,
high-level students, underperforming on them due to their language-dependent
nature (Phillips, 2006).
Testing Fatigue.Testing fatigue is
another factor that needs to be considered in the discussion of why
standardized tests are an unfit option for Texas students.A tremendous amount of testing fatigue exists
for students subjected to Texas’ system of assessment and accountability.Fatigue, stress, and aversion to tests that
students experience is damaging to the quality of student education (Segool, Carlson,
Goforth, Von Der Embse, & Barterian, 2013).Standardized testing provokes fear and
frustration among students (Segool, Carlson, Goforth, Von Der Embse,
& Barterian, 2013).
suggests that high-stakes standardized tests, such as those required by No
Child Left Behind (NCLB), significantly impact student anxiety levels (Segool
et al., 2013).Studies also indicate
that students who suffer testing anxiety perform poorly on standardized tests (Segool
et al., 2013).Additionally, teachers
report that students experience significantly more test anxiety when taking an
NCLB assessment than on a teacher designed classroom assessment (Segool et al.,
2013).Reflective of this testing
anxiety are the reports of students crying or vomiting when taking these tests
(Chasmar, 2013).Loss of sleep and
illnesses are common during testing season, as well as academic disengagement
(Croft, Roberts, & Stenhouse, 2016).
Texas parents also experience testing fatigue.According to FairTest, a national center that
promotes fairness and validity in testing, hundreds of thousands of parents
nationally are opting their children out of standardized testing (FairTest,
2017).In Texas, the number of
subscribers to the Texas Parents Opt Out of State Tests is well beyond 37
thousand people, indicating that a large proportion of Texans are tired of
standardized tests like STAAR.In
addition to opting out, parents have successfully banded together against state
standardized testing.Texans Advocating
for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) successfully lobbied to eliminate the
inclusion of End-of-Course (EOC) exam scores in final course grades of
graduating students (TAMSA, 2014).Additionally, TAMSA fought for the considerable reduction of
standardized testing from 15 EOC exams to five (TAMSA, 2014).
The stakes attached to testing narrows the
curriculum to subjects only tested on the standardized test.Teacher skill sets are constrained by the
testing structure that limits them to only consider students’ content and
skills development, thusly ignoring the needs of the
whole child and stunting child development (Barrier-Ferreira, 2008).Research indicates that teachers find that
mandated standardized testing contradicts many sound and holistic educational
practices that promote growth beyond rote memorization (Abrams, Pedulla, &
Standardized testing is particularly burdensome in
bilingual classrooms during test time, during which teachers face pressures to
only teach tested subjects (Palmer & Virginia, 2011).Teachers are placed at a disadvantage when
standardized testing does not allow for the knowledge and experiences that students
bring to the classroom (McNeil & Valenzuela, 2000), nor does it reflect the
social, economic, and emotional challenges that inhibit student test
performance (Phillips, 2006).Additionally, standardized testing damages teacher morale through
excessive test preparation that limits the range of student educational experience
(McNeil, 2000; McNeil & Valenzuela, 2000) and minimizes the skill set of
teachers (Abrams, Pedulla, & Madaus, 2003).It becomes difficult to imagine that teachers perform optimally when
faced with increased stress and threats to their livelihood and careers based
upon how students perform. The stress associated with test preparation and
performance inhibits teacher productivity (Phillips, 2006).The difficulties inherent in producing high
student test scores on state mandated tests contribute to teacher
dissatisfaction that negatively impacts morale (Moore, 2012). Testing fatigue
becomes intense for teachers to the degree that it drives experienced educators
out of the profession (Thibodeaux, Labat, Lee,
Texas Legislators Recognize Standardized Testing Fatigue.Several Texas legislators recognize the deep
structural flaws in the accountability system and that Texans are burned out by
standardized testing.These legislators
have sought in recent years to recommend assessment alternatives to high-stakes
testing.After considerable lobbying
from Texas parents and TAMSA, former House Public Education Committee Chairman
Jimmie Don Aycock introduced legislation that reduced the number of EOC exams
from 15 to 5.Additionally, Senator Kel
Seliger chaired a committee that in 2016 released a report suggesting
alternatives to high-stakes, standardized testing (Texas Commission on Next
Generation Assessments and Accountability, 2016).
Additionally, the A-F grading system, which was
passed in the 84th Texas Legislative session, has already been
denounced by legislators in the 85th
legislative session.House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan
Huberty introduced House Bill 22, a bill that overhauls how the state assigns
letter grades to public schools in Texas by placing less emphasis on assessment
tests (Alfaro, 2017).Outrage over the
A-F grading spurred House Representative to file a bill that would repeal A-F
grading entirely (Ayala & Hacker, 2017).
Long a subject that legislators were unwilling
to negotiate vis-à-vis other demands for funding, the costs of standardized
testing is now coming into question.In
March 2017, House Bill 1336 was heard.This bill would assess the costs of standardized testing to the state of
Texas but also to the school districts and teachers charged with implementing
the test.The efforts of parents and
legislators reflect testing fatigue.Standardized testing is structured in a way that fails to provide a
system that is equitable for students.It
is also not embraced by many, if not most, parents, teachers, or legislators.
Why We Need Authentic Assessment.American classrooms are
becoming more diverse.Unless teachers
account for students’ culture, learning styles, background, and experiences within
their classrooms, the “achievement gap” will never be closed
(DeCastro-Ambrosetti & Cho, 2005).High-stakes testing has been proven ineffective, particularly within
minority populations.In short,
culturally relevant, authentic assessments are an effective alternative to
high-stakes, standardized testing (Gipps, 1999; Heritage, 2010).
NCLB has seen a rise in the
political interest within communities to ensure that schools meet the need of
minority populations, primarily students who attend high-poverty and
low-performing schools (Durden, 2008). Latina/o students in low-income schools
are often faced with inequitable resources, which, affect their test scores
(Rodriguez & Arellano, 2016). Educational systems often give the illusion
of equality in terms of access to resources and student performance, but upon
closer examination, minority students often receive a second-class education
compared to non-minority students; inequalities within the system leave
minority students destined for educational failure (Durden, 2008).
Education must shift
away from rote learning models and high-stakes, standardized testing and evolve
toward a model that allows for development of students’ creativity and problem-solving
skills (Litchfiled & Dempsey, 2015).Extensive research has shown that culturally relevant teaching (CRT) has
positive effects on minority student populations. If done effectively, CRT can
provide students with opportunities for developing critical competence.CRT also nurtures students’ sociopolitical and
critical consciousness (May, 2010). Schools must move towards CRT to reach
equity in teaching all students.
assessments have been proven to be effective measures to use in order to meet
the needs of all learners and to incorporate elements of CRT. Standardized
tests only demonstrate students’ abilities to recognize and recall information;
authentic assessments, like portfolios and project-based learning assignments,
require students to be effective performers with acquired knowledge
(DeCastro-Ambrosetti & Cho, 2005).These assessments provide students
the opportunity to engage with applicable real-world activities in which they
apply skills that they have previously learned in order to demonstrate their
learning.Teachers may use rubrics,
which are shared with the students, as a way to assess students’ learning;
rubrics also provide clear goals and objectives, ensuring that students have a
clear vision of teachers' expectations
while ensuring a high level of rigor.Additionally,
alternative assessments provide teachers with options to engage in
differentiated learning based on students’ preferences and learning styles,
therefore meeting the unique needs of all students (DeCastro-Ambrosetti &
The Need for IGCs.As previously
discussed, portfolio and project-based, student assessments provide a desirable
and more effective alternative to standardized testing.One way that authentic assessment can be
introduced into Texas high schools is through Individual Graduation Committees
as a way to increase high school completion rates by providing students with an
alternate way to complete high school course requirements and graduate.
The concept of IGCs is not a revolutionary idea. For more than 100
years Texas has graduated high school students based on student performance, and
students have been certified as ready to graduate by local public school
teachers, principals, and school districts without testing.
As previously discussed, standardized testing can be unreliable and a
poor way of measuring what learning takes place in the classroom (McNeil &
Valenzuela, 2000; Ravitch, 2013; Valenzuela, 2004)It is time for Texas to move
away from a one-size-fits-all testing program to an accountability system that
truly measures student growth and teacher productivity: authentic assessment.
Accountability systems should be locally designed, culturally relevant,
and authentically reflect student experiences.IGCs are a positive step in this direction and
can increase graduation rates while keeping young Texans from falling through
the cracks within the educational system.
Texas high school students enrolled in grades 11 or 12 who have
taken and failed an EOC exam for no more than two courses can be candidates for
IGCs.State-required EOCs can serve as a
major barrier for students attempting to complete high school. Data from
the Texas Education Agency (TEA) reveal that during the 2014-2015 school year,
most students who completed IGCs failed the English II and U.S. History EOCs,
which are not required by the federal government. Students who failed
these exams comprise 83 percent of the IGC graduate population. Nearly 6,000 IGC
graduates failed at least one EOC during the 2014-2015 school year. Of
those students, 63 percent of IGC graduates failed only one exam; thirty-four
percent of IGC graduates failed two EOCs, and nearly 3 percent failed three or
more EOCs. Of those students that failed one EOC, most failed either the
English II or U.S. History EOC: nearly 39 percent failed English II only, and nearly
14 percent failed U.S. History only. Of IGC graduates that failed two
EOCs, nearly 7 percent failed both English II and U.S. History (TEA, 2015-a).
At just 2
percent during the 2014-2015 academic year, IGC graduates comprised a small percentage
of the entire population of Texas high school graduates.IGCs were therefore created for 12,077
students in Texas.From that group,
approximately 6,279 students (52 percent) were recommended by their committees
for graduation (IDRA, 2016; see Appendix A).Comparing school districts across the state, the percentage of IGC
graduates for the 2014-2015 school year ranged from 0.6 percent to 4.3 percent
(TEA, 2015-a). Minority students, including Black and Latino students, and
economically disadvantaged students benefit greatly from IGCs.
comprised 18 percent of IGC graduates during the 2014-2015 school year with a
total of 1,121 IGC graduates out of 39,690 total Black graduates.The overall Texas high school graduation rate
for Black students is 13 percent. For Latino students, Latinos made-up 68
percent of IGC graduates in contrast to their 48 percent total of all high
school graduates in Texas that year. Seventy-four percent of IGC
graduates were identified as economically disadvantaged while comprising only
47 percent of the total number of high school graduates in Texas (TEA, 2015-a).
IGCs allow flexibility for certain populations of students, like
English Language Learners (ELLs).ELLs
who fail the English I EOC are permitted to pursue an IGC as an alternative
plan to graduation, so long as the student takes all other required EOCs but
fails one additional test.ELLs are also
permitted to pursue IGCs if they pass the English I EOC but fail two other EOCs
IGCs are comprised of a variety of individuals who assess students’
performance.These committees are comprised of a student’s principal or their
designee; the teacher who taught the course in which the student failed the
EOC; the department chair or lead teacher supervising the course; and the student’s parent, guardian, or advocate if the student is under 18 years of age
(students aged 18 years or older can represent themselves) (TEA, 2015-b).Members of a student’s IGC determine whether
a student has demonstrated
proficiency in course content on the basis of alternative measures.IGCs
therefore grant autonomy to professional educators in decision making with
respect to student learning.Most
importantly, IGCs are a form ofauthentic assessment: Requirements for IGCs could
include a project related to course content or a portfolio of work samples
related to the course subject matter (TEA, 2015-b).Other factors
include the following: the student’s grade; the student’s EOC scores:
the amount of remediation courses the student has completed; the student’s
completion of dual enrollment, Advanced Placement or International
Baccalaureate courses; the student’s college-level, examination program score; the student’s SAT or ACT score; and other factors
related to the student’s preparedness for postsecondary education (TEA,
If we trust our educators with our children, we
must similarly trust educators to assess our students on the basis of
well-known, and subscribed to, best practices like authentic assessment. IGCs provide the policy space for educators to measure
student growth holistically.Moreover,
they represent an opportunity for change within the context of an
arguably poor assessment and accountability system in Texas about which even
legislators have grown weary.These committees afford marginalized students chances
to complete school in an alternate format that offers a more authentic and
reliable alternative to standardized, high-stakes testing.Without IGCs, Texas will
unnecessarily fail large numbers of minority students, including Blacks, Latina/os,
and ELLs, as these students will be forced to adapt to the harmful confines
of high-stakes testing, a system that fails to prioritize
their needs, characteristics, and potentialities.
Abrams, L. M.,
Pedulla, J. J., & Madaus, G. F. (2003). Views from the classroom: Teachers'
opinions of statewide testing programs. Theory
Into Practice, 42(1):18-29.
Ayala, E., & Hacker, H.
K. (2017, January 6). A-F outrage spurs lawmaker's move to kill Texas'
new school grading plan.
The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved from
J. (2008) Producing commodities or educating children? Nurturing the personal
growth of students in the face of standardized testing. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and
Ideas, 81(3), 138-140.
Chasmar, J. (2013,
November 25). Common core testing makes children vomit, wet their
Cook, B. G.,
Gerber, M. M., & Semmel, M. I. (1997). Are effective schools reforms
effective for all students? The implications of joint outcome production for
school reform. Exceptionality, 7(2): 77-95.
Croft, S. J., Roberts,
M., & Stenhouse, V. (2016). The perfect storm of education reform:
High-stakes testing and
teacher evaluation. Social Justice, 42(1): 70-92.
DeCastro-Ambrosetti, D., & Cho, G. (2005). Synergism in learning: A critical
reflection ofauthentic assessment. High
School Journal, 89(1): 57-62.
Durden, T. (2008). Do your homework! Investigating the role of culturally relevant pedagogy
in comprehensive school reform models
diverse student populations. Urban Review: Issues and Ideals in Public
Education, 40(4): 403-419.
Gipps, C. (1999).
Socio-cultural aspects of assessment. Review
of Research in Education, 24: 355-392.
(2010). Formative assessment and
next-generation assessment systems: Are we losing an opportunity. National
Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) and
the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). CCSSO: Washington, DC.
May, L. A. (2010).
Situating strategies: An examination of comprehension
instruction in one upper elementary classroom
toward culturally relevant teaching. Literacy Research and
Instruction, 50(1): 31-43.
McNeil, L. M. (2000). Contradictions
of school reform: Educational costs of standardized testing. New York, NY:
McNeil, L., & Valenzuela, A. (2000). The harmful impact of the
TAAS system of testing in Texas: Beneath the accountability rhetoric. In M. Kornhaber & G. Orfield,
(Eds.), Raising standards or
raising barriers?Inequality and high stakes testing in public education (pp.
127-150).New York, NY: Century Foundation.
M. (2012). The role of school environment in teacher dissatisfaction among U.S.
public school teachers. SAGE Open, 1-16.
F. (2013). One size does not fit all: Individualized instruction in a
standardized educational system. American Annals of the Deaf, 158(1):98-103.
& Virginia, S. (2011). High-stakes accountability and policy
Teacher decision making in
bilingual classrooms in Texas. Educational Policy, 25(4): 614-647.
Phillips, M. (2006). Standardized tests aren't like
t-shirts: One size doesn't fit all. Multicultural
Ravitch, D. (2013). Reign
of error: The hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to
public schools. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Rodriguez, J. M., &
Arellano, L. (2016). The impact of high-stakes testing on Latina/o students’ college
aspirations. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 15(2): 113-135.
Carlson, J. S., Goforth, A. N., Von Der Embse, N., & Barterian, J.
A. (2013). Heightened test anxiety among young children: Elementary school
students’ anxious responses to high-stakes testing. Wiley Periodicals:
Psychology in the Schools, 50(5): 489-499.