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Posted at 12:05 PM ET, 03/23/2012

In Texas, a revolt brews against standardized testing

More than 100 school districts in Texas have passed a resolution saying that high-stakes standardized tests are “strangling” public schools, the latest in a series of events that are part of a brewing revolt in the state where the test-centric No Child Left Behind was born.

State-mandated standardized testing has become so dominant in Texas that, according to Denise Williams, testing director of the Wichita Falls Independent School District, high school students are spending up to 45 days of their 180-day school year taking them, according to the Times Record News. Students in grades three through eight spend 19 to 27 days a year taking state-mandated tests.

In Texas this spring, students starting in grade three are taking new exams called the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, which are supposed to be more “rigorous” than previous assessments. In high school, what used to be grade-specific exams are being replaced by 12 end-of-course tests that will be linked to graduation and final grades.

Educators and parents are so concerned that deep budgets cuts could leave schools unable to meet the tests’ new demands that there has been unprecedented talk against testing mania.

Here’s what’s been going on:

First, the state education commissioner, Robert Scott, said the mentality that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be. He also called “the assessment and accountability regime” not only “a cottage industry but a military-industrial complex,” and he attacked the Common Core Standards Initiative as being motivated by business concerns.

Then he agreed to postpone by a year a requirement that the results of each end-of-course exam account for 15 percent of a student’s final grade in that course.

Inspired by Scott, Kelli Moulton, the superintendent of Hereford Independent School District, who was quoted by the Texas Tribune as saying that she was considering not turning into the state Education Department her students’ STAAR results:

“We talk a lot, but nobody’s stepped off to do anything really bold. Clearly now as a state, at least with a leader who is willing to say testing has gone too far, when do we put a stick in a wheel and say, that’s enough, stop? Because we are going to spend the next 10 years trying to slow that wheel down, and we’ve got 10 years of kids that are suffering.”

And now school districts, one by one, are passing a resolution that says an “over reliance” on standardized high stakes testing 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.”

So far, more than 100 districts have passed the resolution (see the full text of the sample resolution below), which asks state education officials to take a new approach to assessing students.

There are about 1,030 school districts in Texas, but the effort has just begun.

So, does what happens in Texas have national significance?

It certainly did when former Texas governor George W. Bush became president and brought with him education policies that he crafted into the No Child Left Behind law, which ushered in the high-stakes testing era a decade ago.

Could Texas influence the country again in regard to testing? We’ll see.

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This is the sample anti-testing resolution that district school boards have been adapting or passing as is to express their discontent with high stakes tests:

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 reexamine 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.

 

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