This is the second of six in our fall blog series, House Bill 5: Past, Present and Future. HB 5 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock is the landmark accountability and assessment legislation passed during the 83rd Texas Legislative Session (2013).
Each blog in this series features an introductory video by HD Chambers, Superintendent of Alief ISD and pioneer for the HB 5 movement, followed by information about one of the many ways HB 5 impacts education, business, and communities across Texas.
The following is a contribution by Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA), a grassroots organization with the mission of improving public education in Texas through the use of meaningful and effective student assessments that allow for more productive classroom instruction and more efficient use of public funds.
Let’s Be the Change
Next time you think “someone should do something about this,” replace “someone” with “I,” then go talk to your friends and see what they think.
When told that our incoming ninth graders would be the first to have to pass 15 standardized tests to graduate from high school, and that these test scores would count for 15% of our children’s final grades, a group of parents in Austin did just that.
Legislators had passed the law requiring these State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) end-of-course exams four years previously. Once implementation began, many realized that this was an extreme number of tests.
So, a group of incensed yet forward-looking parents soon found ourselves around a dining room table agreeing that something had to be done, and we might as well be the ones to do it. We all had ninth graders whose high school education was about to be turned on its head by standardized tests. From this group, Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) was born.
Priorities & Our First Victory
The inclusion of test scores as 15% of final grades became our first priority because deciding final grades is an issue of local control that should get local attention. We went to our school boards and requested that they petition the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for a waiver of the 15% rule.
We were initially met with resistance, but the issue caught the attention of other parents and school districts. Petitions were being signed, and the pressure mounted to the point that the TEA Commissioner even mentioned the growing protest in a statewide speech. The next thing we knew, legislators were signing a letter asking the Commissioner to waive the 15% rule – and he did! Our voices had been heard.
The Big Stage — The Texas Legislature
Next, we planned for the 83rd Legislative Session. The STAAR testing regime was a legislative mandate, and we would have to seek changes from the Texas Legislature to address it. We fervently recognized that we would have to climb a very high wall built over years by policymakers and lobbyists who wanted quick fixes to huge public education challenges. Standardized testing had become part of that quick fix approach – let’s give a lot of money to the testing company and let it handle the design, implementation, and scoring.
Doing Our Standardized Testing Homework
STAAR was the latest iteration of what the testing company was delivering. We were starting to understand that many had vested interests in continuing the skyward trend of standardized tests. Yet, we also realized that parents had not been at the table of public education decision-making in a long time, and we needed, at the very least, to bring reason back to that table. One way for us to do that was by sharing what had convinced us: facts and figures disclaiming the effectiveness of high-stakes, standardized tests in improving learning. We saw evidence of this in our children’s daily lives, but the research would also speak for itself.
Outreach and More Outreach
Armed with our facts and figures, we went on a public education campaign of our own. We met with PTAs, school boards, regional education centers, superintendents, education organizations, and dropped by every legislator’s office. We developed a website and started asking people to join our cause. We identified regional team leaders who also helped grow our membership in key metropolitan areas. Strengthening bonds with parents from all over the state built our resolve.
Once the legislative session started, we drafted testimony for key committee hearings in support of limiting state standardized testing. The comprehensive education reform bill, House Bill 5, emerged as the bill that also limited standardized testing at the high school level. We had our facts and figures, but what also made an indelible mark on legislators was hearing from students about how the STAAR tests were robbing them of creativity in the classroom and limiting their plans for the future. We attended many hearings, and let our members know about what was said and what was asked. Some questions did not have an answer.
In addition to countless legislative visits, we wrote press releases and letters to the editors; we posted on Facebook; we spoke with reporters and would-be reporters; we started a blog, Twitter feed, and SlideShare account. Our “call to action” emails were especially effective when specific action was needed in a defined time frame. The response was humbling. Be it emails or phone calls, our members would inundate legislative offices. Their passion really came through.
Toward the end of session, after HB 5 had passed both the Senate and the House by unanimous vote, we heard that the governor might veto the bill. After our call to action, the governor’s office received hundreds of calls an hour, and he signed the bill into law on June 10, 2013. As passed, HB 5 lowered the number of end-of-course exams high school students must pass to graduate from 15 to 5, among other reforms for the assessment and accountability systems.
TAMSA is working alongside others to ensure that the little bit of common sense that allowed the passage of HB 5 is not smothered in the next legislative session.
We haven’t forgotten that several bills that would have alleviated some of the STAAR testing in grades 3-8 were vetoed last session, and TAMSA will endeavor to make needed changes to standardized testing in these grades during the coming session.
Through TAMSA, we have met remarkable people and learned a lot about standardized testing and resilience. On a more fundamental level, we are grateful that our faith in the power of the few has been renewed.
As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Is it your turn?
Content from outside contributors does not necessarily reflect the policies and positions of Raise Your Hand Texas.