By David Anthony
A coalition billing itself as the Texas Coalition for a Competitive Workforce has mounted a traveling roadshow loudly decrying any efforts to re-examine the system of testing and accountability being used in Texas public schools. This is not surprising because many of the members of this coalition are the architects of the current system.
The Texas Coalition for a Competitive Workforce has clearly mastered an age-old public relations gambit — if you want to draw attention to your issue, manufacture a crisis. They would have us believe that the accountability system is under attack and is at risk of being dismantled. Not only that, they threaten to hold restoration of adequate funding hostage to their demands that there be no changes made to the testing and accountability system.
The facts are much more benign. No one — parents, educators or businesspeople — wants to undermine accountability for the performance of our public schools. What they do want is an accountability and assessment system that is balanced, supports student learning and provides meaningful information to educators and parents about the progress of their students and the quality of the education being delivered in their schools.
Like all public policies, the accountability and assessment systems must be periodically re-evaluated to see how they are performing in the real world. Yet any attempt to re-examine these policies is met with cries that we are “backing away” from accountability or are not for “rigor.” Texas and Texas students are ill-served by such rhetoric.
What is needed during the coming legislative session is for all people of good faith to come together to offer constructive solutions for how the goal of accountability can be achieved while bringing some balance to our testing and accountability systems.
At Raise Your Hand Texas, the nonprofit education advocacy organization that I lead, we believe that some of the key ingredients of a solution are as follows:
• Simplify and align accountability standards and reporting. Between state and federal accountability standards, Texas public schools are now subject to myriad accountability requirements with different reporting timelines. As any good businessperson will tell you, metrics are valuable only to the extent that they serve as a guide to action.
We need to focus and align our accountability standards, report them publicly once a year, and attach to them labels that provide meaningful and readily understandable information to the public.
• Balance “high-stakes” testing with student learning. Parents and educators worry that the focus of our student assessments has shifted from student achievement to implementing higher-stakes testing that has not been fully vetted, all while public school funding levels have fallen dramatically.
Some of changes to the current testing regimen that should be considered include: elimination of the requirement that end-of-course exams count for up to 15 percent of a student’s final grade; and a reduction in the number of exams that student must pass in order to graduate from high school, which has gone from 4 under TAKS to 12 under the STAAR end-of-course exams.
These are sensible and balanced measures to continue to improve our testing and accountability system, and we feel confident that other interested parties will bring forward constructive recommendations as well.
Which brings us to the issue of funding. Last session, the legislature cut $5.3 billion in funding from our local schools. For the first time in 25 years, Texas is not funding our local schools for the new students that they are required to educate each year. And simultaneously, we are raising the stakes on testing to levels never experienced before. How will this serve our growing population of economically disadvantaged students? How will it contribute to the future workforce of our state?
Raise Your Hand Texas believes that local schools must be provided with appropriate financial resources to educate a growing and diverse population. Empty saber rattling that opposes new funding to schools to meet enrollment growth and restore past cuts unless our present accountability system is maintained is both irresponsible and counterproductive to the goal of supporting student achievement.
The challenge for legislators when they return to Austin in January will be to find the appropriate balance on these issues. Restoring funding alone will not solve these problems, nor will blindly insisting on accountability for accountability’s sake. Raise Your Hand Texas is committed to playing a constructive role with legislators to arrive at workable solutions that meet the needs of Texas students. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work!