School officials: High-stakes tests failing students
By Monica Rhor
Updated 07:11 a.m., Tuesday, March 13, 2012
For years, murmurs of discontent have stirred among teachers tired of devoting class time to test preparation, school administrators saddled by legislative mandates, parents anxious about an increasing focus on high-stakes assessments.
Now, a mounting chorus of school administrators, educators and parents is speaking out against a system in which they say testing has eclipsed teaching.
At least 40 school boards across the state, including those in Friendswood, Clear Creek, Alvin and Dickinson, have taken a public stand by passing a resolution decrying the "over reliance on standardized, high-stakes testing" that is "strangling our public schools." Many others, including Humble and Crosby, plan to consider the resolution at their next school board meeting.
The Texas Parents Opt Out movement is encouraging parents to keep their children home from school on testing days, and the State Board of Education has scheduled an April 18 public hearing on testing.
Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott told the state board of education in January that the high-stakes testing culture has become "the heart of the vampire." A few days later, he repeated the statement at a conference of school administrators, calling for a system that measures "every other day of a school's life besides testing day."
The comments earned Scott a standing ovation and seemed to give long-frustrated educators tacit permission to mobilize on the issue.
"As superintendents, we've reached the end of our ropes. It's time to stand up for our kids and to stand up for our teachers," said Vicki Mims, Dickinson ISD superintendent. "There should be minimum standards, but we can't spend all our times focusing on tests. We see what it's doing to our kids. It just can't continue."
New STAAR test
Humble ISD superintendent Guy Sconzo noted that as many as 45 days of the school year are interrupted by standardized tests, and third-graders are required to take four-hour-long, high-stakes exams.
"It's a single-moment-in-time assessment that does not come close to measuring all that Texas students are expected to learn," Sconzo said.
What began as a way to measure student learning, administrators and school trustees say, has ballooned into a "drill-and-kill" cycle of test preparation, district benchmark assessments and practice exams that leaves little time for classroom instruction. With school ratings and teacher evaluations at stake, pressure on students to perform well has translated into an anxiety-ridden culture where "people will resort to anything to get a leg up," said Clear Creek ISD superintendent Greg Smith.
For many, the tipping point came with this year's introduction of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, an end-of-course exam that high school students must pass to graduate. Designed to be more challenging than its predecessor, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills or TAKS, the STAAR will also count for 15 percent of a student's grade beginning next year.
The first year of the STAAR exam coincided with state funding cuts for education, which left many school districts scrambling to find resources to pay for additional training, tutoring and implementation.
Clear Creek ISD spent about $1 million for testing coordinators, preparation, security and tutoring for TAKS. It expects that figure to double under STAAR, Smith said.
"Really? Really? That's good use of education money?" asked Mims, the Dickinson school chief. "I'd rather hire more teachers."
Bill Hammond, the president of the Texas Association of Business, took out a full-page ad in the Austin American-Statesman and sent letters to every state legislator criticizing school administrators who raised concerns about testing.
"All of the practice tests, drill and kill, are imposed by local administration. So if school boards don't want that, they should instruct their superintendents to stop this nonsense," said Hammond. "It's as if they want no accountability or a Lake Woebegone accountability where every student is above average."
Administrators stress they are not against accountability, but against a system they say leaves no room to teach critical thinking and simply produces good test-takers.
In the resolutions, the school boards ask state legislators to develop a new accountability system that uses multiple measures to assess student progress or to consider random sampling tests.
"The Legislature needs to pay more attention to experts. They are called teachers," said State Board of Education member George Clayton, who asked the board to add testing to its April agenda. "As an educator, I see it every day. Everything is testing, testing, testing. We graduate seniors who have never written a research paper because it's not on the test."
Clear Creek TX school board resolution vs. high-stakestesting
Guy Brandenburg writes that here is an excellent resolutionthat has been passed by Clear Creek School District, a large districtnear NASA, as well as several other school boards in Texas. It hasbeen called "The shot heard around the county." [seehttp://galvestondailynews.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES
CLEAR CREEK INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT
RESOLUTION CONCERNING HIGH STAKES, STANDARDIZEDTESTING
OF TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS
STATE OF TEXAS §
COUNTY OF GALVESTON
WHEREAS, the over reliance on standardized, high stakes testing as the only assessment of learning that really matters in the state andfederal accountability systems is strangling our public schools and undermining any chance that educators have to transform a traditional system of schooling into a broad range of learning experiences thatbetter prepares our students to live successfully and be competitive on a global stage; and
WHEREAS, we commend Robert Scott, Commissioner of Education, for hisconcern about the overemphasis on high stakes testing that has become"a perversion of its original intent" and for his continuingsupport of high standards and local accountability; and
WHEREAS, we believe our state's future prosperity relies on ahigh-quality education system that prepares students for college andcareers, and without such a system Texas' economic competitivenessand ability and to attract new business will falter; and
WHEREAS, the real work of designing more engaging student learningexperiences requires changes in the culture and structure of thesystems in which teachers and students work; and
WHEREAS, what occurs in our classrooms every day should bestudent-centered and result in students learning at a deep andmeaningful level, as opposed to the superficial level of learning thatresults from the current over-emphasis on that which can be easilytested by standardized tests; and
WHEREAS, We believe in the tenets set out in Creating a New Vision forPublic Education in Texas (TASA, 2008) and our goal is to transformthis district in accordance with those tenets; and
WHEREAS, Our vision is for all students to be engaged in moremeaningful learning activities that cultivate their unique individualtalents, to provide for student choice in work that is designed torespect how they learn best, and to embrace the concept that studentscan be both consumers and creators of knowledge; and
WHEREAS, only by developing new capacities and conditions in districtsand schools, and the communities in which they are embedded, will weensure that all learning spaces foster and celebrate innovation,creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication and criticalthinking; and
WHEREAS, these are the very skills that business leaders desire in arising workforce and the very attitudes that are essential to thesurvival of our democracy; and
WHEREAS, imposing relentless test preparation and boring memorizationof facts to enhance test performance is doing little more thanstealing the love of learning from our students and assuring that wefall short of our goals; and
WHEREAS, we do not oppose accountability in public schools and wepoint with pride to the performance of our students, but believe thatthe system of the past will not prepare our students to lead in thefuture and neither will the standardized tests that so dominate theirinstructional time and block our ability to make progress toward aworld-class education system of student-centered schools andfuture-ready students; therefore be it
RESOLVED that the Clear Creek ISD Board of Trustees calls on the TexasLegislature to reexamine the public school accountability system inTexas and to develop a system that encompasses multiple assessments,reflects greater validity, uses more cost efficient samplingtechniques and other external evaluation arrangements, and moreaccurately reflects what students know, appreciate and can do in termsof the rigorous standards essential to their success, enhances therole of teachers as designers, guides to instruction and leaders, andnurtures the sense of inquiry and love of learning in allstudents.
PASSED AND APPROVED on this 27 day of February, 2012.