As superintendents and board presidents representing the Parker County Area Coalition for Unity in Texas Public Schools, we believe balanced assessment and accountability systems are important components of educational improvement efforts. Educators throughout the state of Texas embrace balanced accountability for our schools.
Through past accountability systems, Texas schools have repeatedly met the challenge to move our children forward in academic achievement. Recently, an important debate has begun regarding assessment and accountability for public schools in Texas.
Texas began engaging with state assessments in 1979 with the Texas Assessment of Basic Skills (TABS). TABS tested math, reading, and writing for grades three, five and nine. Since the TABS, the state has implemented the TEAMS, TAAS, TAKS and now STAAR exams. Every new testing program increased the rigor and expectations. These tests are no longer “basic skills” assessments.
The state accountability and testing system has turned into a high pressure/high stakes exercise. Under STAAR, students must pass or obtain a particular cumulative score on the 15 end-of-course exams to graduate. The scores on the exams dictate which diploma plan a student is awarded which was not the case under previous testing programs. Students in grades five and eight must pass reading and math assessments to be promoted to the next grade level under the Student Success Initiative. SSI funding was reduced by the Legislature in 2011.
In addition to this stress on students, the system has high stakes for schools. Under the Academic Excellence Indicator System in place through 2011, schools and districts had as many as 25 of 30 indicators (based on ethnicity and economic status) that centered on student performance on tests. If only one of the student groups was lower than the minimum standard, the school rating would be lowered. Schools were judged by their lowest performing group. This puts inordinate focus on the test.