Testing too much? Too much relying on the test?

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by TYLER SIESWERDA / KVUE News and photojournalist ERIN COKER

kvue.com

Posted on January 3, 2013 at 11:26 PM

Updated Saturday, Jan 5 at 6:40 PM

AUSTIN -- TABS, TEAMS, TAAS, TAKS, STAAR, a long line of acronyms that represent standardized testing in Texas schools.

The most recent, STAAR has generated controversy because it will represent 15 percent of a student’s final grade.

In December, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams put that element of the test on hold for now. 

 

That aside, many are asking if we're testing our students too much and is too much riding on the scores.

There could be major change coming to Texas schools when the 83rd Legislatures gets underway. One of the big shifts could be in the way our students, teachers, and districts are held accountable.

A 2012 Texas Lyceum Poll showed 60 percent of Texans agree that local schools should be given more flexibility in assessing their students instead of relying solely on standardized tests.

This coming at a time when we are testing more than ever and relying on those tests for much more than determining academic achievement.

"It is a program that has expanded dramatically," said Debbie Ratcliffe from the Texas Education Agency which began standardized testing in 1980. "When it began it was purely a diagnostic test. It was to help us determine where students needed more instruction, what do we need to re-teach but over the years both the Texas Legislature and Congress have expanded all the implications of the testing so now school and district ratings are based on it, and some districts locally decide to base superintendent pay bonuses on it or even teacher bonuses on it."

University of Texas Associate Professor Walter Stroup told KVUE, "that's kind of pushing a test beyond looking at what a student knows."

Professor Stroup believes these tests were not fully designed for the level of accountability which they now hold.

"I think accountability is one of the ways we figure out if we're making progress.  My concern is whether we have tests that can actually help us do that," Stroup said.

A recent report from College Board, the group responsible for the SAT concluded that "it is not appropriate to rank or rate teachers, educational institutions, districts or states solely on the basis of aggregate scores derived from tests that are intended primarily as an individual measure."

Stroup also questions whether the current tests accurately measure what a student is learning or simply rewards good test takers.

"If you're a teacher under a lot of pressure to get scores up and a small fraction is really about the math itself but most of it is the math being used to test your test-taking ability so you do have to cover the topic. You do have to know what slope is but most of your getting the question right is about a test-taking ability you'll have schools shift the focus to be about test taking and that's the real danger," Stroup said.

Austin Independent School Districts Chief Performance Officer Bill Caritj said that's not happening in Austin schools.

"From the central administration point of view, we don't do test prep," Caritj said.

According to Caritj, AISD students are simply being tested on the curriculum. But he also added, "the campuses want their kids to be ready and they each have their own way of doing it."

Their own way of doing it proved illegal recently in El Paso. This past October, the former superintendent of the El Paso school system, Lorenzo Garcia, was convicted in federal court of a scheme to inflate TAKS scores by keeping underperforming students out of the classroom on testing days. Even encouraging some to drop out.

 

It created big jumps in achievement and even sizable bonuses for Garcia.

The U.S. Department of Education said Texas currently has an 86 percent graduation rate, 10 percent higher than the national average. But that national College Board study found only 43 percent of seniors bound for higher education are actually ready.

So is all the testing working? We'll find out when the Texas Legislature gets to work.

 

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