"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Will Texas Lead the Nation Away from Child Abuse Through Testing?

When I was teaching in Louisiana in 2000, the state gained the dubious distinction as the first in the nation to use a single test to determine a child's future in the elementary grades. Since then, more than 10 states and New York City have joined the unethical and abusive practice.

Now it looks as if at least half of the "test and punish" national obsession may beginning to crack, and it is a beautiful irony that Texas, the inspiration for the educational genocide of the past nine years, may lead us back toward some semblance of humane education assessment. First, this from FairTest:
Issue: Mar 2009
The Texas Association of School Administrators has released a report offering a sweeping plan for reforming their state’s education system. “Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas” calls for fundamentally altering the way society thinks of public education’s purpose and changing priorities from preparing students for the workforce to preparing them for success in life. A key recommendation is to shift from high-stakes standardized testing to multiple measures of student learning.

“For assessment to be of any value, it must move from the present ‘autopsy’ model to one that more resembles a ‘daily check up,’ which continuously identifies student strengths, interests, motivations, accomplishments, and other information necessary so that teachers can design the learning experiences that will best meet each student’s needs.” The ideas in this report can inform the ongoing debate over high school exit exams, the No Child Left Behind law, which was largely modeled after Texas’s high-stakes testing program, and other state assessment practices.

The Texas superintendent’s report is available here.
Now it seems the Texas Legislature is getting into the act with matching bills that would alter rules on elementary student advancement. The new legislation would essentially repeal the child abuse through testing that has taught hundreds of thousands of children failure at an early age over the past eight years. Here is a crucial section from HB 3:
SECTION 7.
. . . .
(a) Not later than the first day of the school year, a school district shall determine the requirements for student advancement from one grade level to the next. In determining whether a student may be promoted to the next grade level, the district shall consider:
(1) the student's score on an assessment instrument administered under Section 39.023(a), (b), or (l);
(2) the recommendation of the student's teacher;
(3) the student's grade in each subject or course; and
(4) any other necessary information, as determined by the district.
And here is a nice op-ed on the subject from the Longview News-Journal:
LONGVIEW NEWS-JOURNAL
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

We don't imagine a long line of folks gathering at the state Capitol to defend the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS. Bills filed in both chambers in the past week (Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 3) would eliminate the test. Right now, the test is scheduled to be phased out for high school students in 2011-12, but would continue for children in lower grades. Eliminating the test at all levels would force classroom attention away from teaching to that test — required for graduation and even grade advancement — and toward better preparing students for either college or the workplace.

It should be clear what we're doing in Texas isn't working particularly well. The state ranks fourth from the bottom in Scholastic Aptitude Test scores and dead last in the percentage of adults with a high school diploma. A recent study by education and counseling professors at Sam Houston State University found less than one third of all Texas high school graduates have adequate preparation for college courses, based on Texas Education Agency standards. Similar studies show workplace-bound high school graduates woefully unprepared.

The new legislation, according to the Houston Chronicle, would eliminate the requirement that students in grades three, five, eight and 11 pass the TAKS to proceed to the next grade level. It would also create two types of diplomas: one for students headed to college, and another for students seeking training in high school for a particular career or trade. That dovetails nicely with local efforts to develop a local workforce by encouraging school districts to expand and improve what used to be called vocational programs.

Not every student is college-bound. Indeed, most aren't, according to statistics. It stands to reason that Texas schools need to do a better job of helping those students be prepared to join the workforce — especially in these tough economic times.

As Senate bill sponsor Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, put it, "We have counted on testing and testing only. And it's caused a lot of angst in the schools."

The present system isn't working. Campuses are primarily judged by the state as to how well their students perform on the TAKS, and how much improvement has been made. Under Shapiro's bill, and its House companion, filed by Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, campuses would be recognized for improvement in a number of areas — from student achievement to preparing students for the workforce.

Student testing isn't going away under this measure. But it will cover more than minimum skills, and it will do what it's supposed to do — measure a student's academic improvement from one year to the next. That would be a considerable improvement over the present system.

As Shapiro further said, "All of the foibles, all of the fallacies in the system here just became glaring."

We suspect many teachers and parents would agree. We certainly do.

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