Fighting for Equity in Education

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Texas in Revolt Against High Stakes Testing

Saturday April 7, 2012

Earlier this year, the Republican-appointed commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, Robert Scott, attacked the testing mania in Texas schools as a “perversion” of what a quality education should be. He said that too many schools over-prepare for tests by cramming kids and referred to it as “drill and kill teaching”. He said it was “the heart of the vampire”.

His comments have set off a storm that threatens high stakes standardised testing in the state. School districts across the state have revolted against the tests. About one-quarter of all district school boards have passed a resolution in the past two months condemning the reliance on standardised tests to judge progress in education improvement.

The resolution says that standardised tests are “strangling” public education and “undermining any chance that educators have to transform a traditional system of schooling into a broad range of learning experiences that better prepares our students”. It says that “imposing relentless test preparation and boring memorization of facts to enhance test performance is doing little more than stealing the love of learning from our students”.

The resolution calls for a re-examination of the public school accountability system. It says the Texas legislature should “develop a system that encompasses multiple assessments, reflects greater validity, uses more cost efficient sampling techniques and other external evaluation arrangements, and more accurately reflects what students know, appreciate and can do.”

Diane Ravitch, former US Assistant Secretary of Education and author of the best-selling critique of US education policy, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, says it is the most significant rebellion against high stakes testing in the US so far and it is growing.

The Texas Association of School Administrators, which is promoting the rebellion, says that as of 4 April, 236 school districts out of about 1,000 have passed the resolution already. Many more have it on their agendas in April. At least one chamber of commerce has passed a similar resolution.

TASA officials are planning to draft “what now?” steps for districts that have already adopted the resolution, and there are plans to draft sample resolutions for chambers of commerce and other groups.

Standardised testing dominates school life in Texas. According to the Times Record News, high school students spend up to 45 days of their 180-day school year taking the tests and students in grades three through eight spend 19 to 27 days a year on them.

TASA spokeswoman, Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said:

Using one single measure to determine a school’s worth, a student’s worth [and] a district’s worth is completely contrary to what we should be doing. It squelches creativity. It basically drives everything down to the common denominator, instead of allowing for creativity and innovation in the classroom.

The resolution is provided below. In view of how much time schools in Australia spend on preparing for the NAPLAN tests the resolution should be considered by school boards and councils in Australia, especially as the Liberal party intends to extend national testing to students in every year level from 3 to 10 if elected.

Trevor Cobbold

RESOLUTION CONCERNING HIGH STAKES, STANDARDIZED TESTING OF TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS
STATE OF TEXAS

WHEREAS, the over reliance on standardized, high stakes testing as the only assessment of learning that really matters in the state and federal 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 that better prepares our students to live successfully and be competitive on a global stage; and

WHEREAS, we commend Robert Scott, Commissioner of Education, for his concern about the overemphasis on high stakes testing that has become “a perversion of its original intent” and for his continuing support of high standards and local accountability; and

WHEREAS, we believe our state’s future prosperity relies on a high-quality education system that prepares students for college and careers, and without such a system Texas’ economic competitiveness and ability and to attract new business will falter; and

WHEREAS, the real work of designing more engaging student learning experiences requires changes in the culture and structure of the systems in which teachers and students work; and

WHEREAS, what occurs in our classrooms every day should be student-centered and result in students learning at a deep and meaningful level, as opposed to the superficial level of learning that results from the current over-emphasis on that which can be easily tested by standardized tests; and

WHEREAS, We believe in the tenets set out in Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas (TASA, 2008) and our goal is to transform this district in accordance with those tenets; and

WHEREAS, Our vision is for all students to be engaged in more meaningful learning activities that cultivate their unique individual talents, to provide for student choice in work that is designed to respect how they learn best, and to embrace the concept that students can be both consumers and creators of knowledge; and

WHEREAS, only by developing new capacities and conditions in districts and schools, and the communities in which they are embedded, will we ensure that all learning spaces foster and celebrate innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication and critical thinking; and

WHEREAS, these are the very skills that business leaders desire in a rising workforce and the very attitudes that are essential to the survival of our democracy; and

WHEREAS, imposing relentless test preparation and boring memorization of facts to enhance test performance is doing little more than stealing the love of learning from our students and assuring that we fall short of our goals; and

WHEREAS, we do not oppose accountability in public schools and we point with pride to the performance of our students, but believe that the system of the past will not prepare our students to lead in the future and neither will the standardized tests that so dominate their instructional time and block our ability to make progress toward a world-class education system of student-centered schools and future-ready students; therefore be it

RESOLVED that the _____________ ISD Board of Trustees calls on the Texas Legislature to re-examine the public school accountability system in Texas and to develop a system that encompasses multiple assessments, reflects greater validity, uses more cost efficient sampling techniques and other external evaluation arrangements, and more accurately reflects what students know, appreciate and can do in terms of the rigorous standards essential to their success, enhances the role of teachers as designers, guides to instruction and leaders, and nurtures the sense of inquiry and love of learning in all students.

For more information see the Texas Association of School Administrators

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