Weatherford Democrat

February 7, 2013

SCHOOL DISTRICTS UNITED: Assessment and accountability

Weatherford Democrat

— 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. 

The system has become so complex that former Commissioner of Education Robert Scott said in a January 2011 speech that the testing system had become a “perversion of its original intent.” We all can see the explosion of the number of tests since 1979. A typical student going through our schools from Pre-K to graduation will take a minimum of 32 state assessments. All state assessments administered throughout a school district takes at least 43 school days each year.

The testing structure has grown exponentially with the number and difficulty of the measures for students and schools.  

We are proponents of a balanced system that assesses students to provide information about their learning and preserves the experience of school. Approximately 879 school districts have adopted a resolution urging the state to change the over reliance on high stakes standardized testing in Texas. All schools in Parker County have adopted this resolution.

Accountability focused on high-stakes testing does not give a clear and accurate picture of the performance of our schools for the communities we serve. Assessment that provides information to educators and parents to guide decisions for students is a much better use of time and money to ensure our children are given the best education and opportunity in the future.

Standing together in a unified voice,

Aledo ISD – Dan Manning, superintendent; Bobby J. Rigues, board president

Azle ISD – Dr. Ray Lea, superintendent; Bill Lane, board president

Brock ISD – Richard Tedder, superintendent; Bill Cooper, board president

Garner ISD – Marion Ferguson, superintendent; Michael Collins, board president

Millsap ISD – Dr. David Belding, superintendent; Dr. Dene Herbel, board president

Paradise ISD – Monty Chapman, superintendent; Homer Mundy, board president

Peaster ISD – Matt Adams, superintendent; Scott Johnson, board president

Poolville ISD – Jimmie Dobbs, superintendent; Lynn Duvall, board president

Santo ISD – Greg Gilbert, superintendent; Randy Parker, board president

Springtown ISD – Mike Kelley, superintendent; Amy Walker, board president

Weatherford ISD – Dr. Jeffrey M. Hanks, superintendent; Charlie Martinez, board president