assessments

Today, May 6, 2019, the Texas legislators are slated to vote on a version of the school finance legislation, House Bill 3, that includes a proposal to add four more writing tests and tie school funding directly to third-grade STAAR results.  The new exams would bring the total number of annual assessments to 21 and would mark the second change to the number of tests since 2012. Currently, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) includes the following assessments:

  • Reading and Mathematics, grades 3–8;
  • Writing at grades 4 and 7;
  • Science at grades 5 and 8;
  • Social Studies at grade 8;
  • End-of-Course (EOC) assessments for English I, English II, Algebra I, Biology and U.S History; and
  • Optional End-of-Course (EOC) assessments for English III and Algebra II.

According to a Texas Monthly article published this weekend, the last-minute tinkering of the recently proposed and significant school finance House Bill 3 to include more STAAR exams and link funding to third-grade STAAR results, by the Senate Education Committee comes at a time when many critics are questioning the accuracy and efficacy of the STAAR exams. Many proponents point to the need to increase the numbers assessments in order to determine student academic progress better.  Moreover, the focus on 3rd-grade assessment levels connects to the significant body of research that links 3rd-grade reading levels to future student success outcomes.  Finally, proponents want to add more writing exams, in particular, because, under the current system, students only have four writing exams (4th grade, 7th grade, English I, and English II)

On the other hand, opponents argue that the Texas Education Agency should improve the accuracy of the STAAR exams before introducing additional assessments.  After all, it is challenging to measure student progress if the instrument is inaccurate.  Opponents also question the Senate Education Committee’s tying funding to 3rd-grade STAAR results, which merely exacerbates educators’ growing cynicism about legislators’ support of public education.

Absent in the arguments of both sides of the debate is the consideration of the real cost of adding more high-stakes tests. Regardless of the timing that additional assessments are implemented, measures such as these will not improve student achievement.  Not only will district administrators, principals, and teachers focus an inordinate amount of their attention on increasing student scores on the new tests, but issues with the accuracy of STAAR academic program and strategies to improve the quality of classroom instruction still will not be resolved or even addressed.  Ironically, adding more STAAR tests, whether now or later, will result in a “miss” with regard to the ideal goal of increasing student learning.  Today’s debate will be yet another distraction from the real and pressing need to improve teaching and learning in Texas public schools.

Houston iTunesU

Houston iTunesU

Recently the Texas Commissioner of Education, Michael L. Williams, announced that he was deferring implementation of a 15 percent grading requirement for the 2012-2013 school year.  This news was received by the vast majority of educators across Texas with jubilation and relief.  To put this reaction in context, you would have to understand the policy’s origins and scope.  When the state of Texas decided to upgrade its assessment and accountability system in 2009, it included a ruling that made a student’s score on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) end-of-course examinations count toward15 percent of the student’s final grade in each tested subject area.

Now at first glance that would seem alarming, but when you consider the fact that students would be required to take several more assessments with more rigorous content and testing conditions, it became a serious anxiety accelerant for school administrators and educators.   Commissioner William’s decision marks the second year the rule has been deferred. In the 2011-2012 school year, more than 1,100 of the state’s more than 1,200 school districts notified the Texas Education Agency that they would be selecting the voluntary deferral option.  Even though school systems have been given a reprieve with regard to the 15% grading requirement, students still must take all STAAR tests and meet all requirements for graduation.

Even though most of the state appears to be finding a resolution, I am troubled by the majority reaction and am left with several yet-to-be answered still questions for theTexas Education Commissioner and K-12 School system educators throughout the state.

  • Why do we have so many conflicts with the 15% rule in the first place?
  • Who is looking into the nearly 100 out of the 1200 independent school systems that did not request a deferral of the 15% ruling during the first year of implementation, and how are these school system fairing? What led them to reject the deferral?
  • What does all the conflict with the 15% ruling really reveal about the Texas Educational System?

In summary, I am left with wonderments of the potential of the new state of Texas assessment and accountability system.  One can not help but notice how that the system is being altered from what its planners originally intended.  This is not to say adjustments are not needed, but the goal is to improve student achievement, all of these backtrackings no the 15% rule could be the proverbial beginning of the end. This end is the political dismantling of a once-promising state assessment and accountability system that supports more rigor and better student preparedness for their post-secondary endeavors.  Perhaps we are simply witnessing an assessment accountability system deferred.

High Stakes Testing Culture

In an age of accountability and high stakes testing, we have accomplished a lot. We have managed to learn how to analyze assessment data to determine trends. We have also learned how to break down objectives or learning standards into their most intricate parts. Most of all we have learned how to make ourselves feel good about our data.

Everybody is “data-driven” these days. But what does that really mean? There still exists a culture of assessment “I got ya”. Frankly, we are so focused on assessments that we have missed the whole boat on instruction. If we put the same energy and intensity that we have invested in assessments into quality instruction, we might actually have more accurate assessments. Now I realize having quality assessments can and should drive instruction, we just need to vary it a little.

Fundamental Questions

How can we, as school systems, transition from a culture assessment for accountability to one focused on students learning?  any of you may have experienced an educational system that has figured how the “game” of high stakes state testing.  The more intimately involved you are with teaching and learning the more repulsive the idea of playing with what state standards are taught and tested to merely make a school district look good.

I am ready to buck the system by actually teaching and assessing for student learning first.  I am not saying we should do away with summative assessments of learning.  I realize how necessary it is for every school system.  I would just like to see the focus put in the proper balance. Maybe we could even move toward looking at project-based work or performance-based assessments. In future posts, I will share some different strategies for assessing for learning.  In the meantime, I guess we will keep plowing away at making more new tests.

Assessment for Learning vs. Assessment of Learning

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