Texas superintendent tells parents: Your children’s standardized test scores don’t mean much

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Paul Jones, superintendent of the Paris Independent School District in Texas, posted a  rather unusual letter  to parents on the district’s website.

Jones informed parents that they would soon receive their children’s scores on state-mandated standardized tests and that they shouldn’t put very much stock into them. In fact, he told them they were part of a “punitive” system in which assessments “do not reflect the quality of teaching or learning.”

Jones adds his voice to the growing chorus of educators — teachers, principals and superintendents — who are publicly protesting the school reform movement uses standardized tests as the main measure of quality. A Chicago principal publicly blasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school reform program, and more protests are taking place around the country every week. 

Here is the letter Jones posted for parents in his district:

 

Dear Parents and Friends of PISD,

Next week, you will be receiving your child’s STAAR/TAKS results for the 2013-2014 school year. I’m writing this letter on behalf of PISD administrators, teachers, staff, and board members. These results should be considered as one of many instruments used to measure your child’s growth, not the end-all of your child’s learning for the year. These assessments do not reflect the quality of teaching or learning in our classrooms. Instead, they reflect a punitive, one size fits all test-driven system. Our students are much more than a once-a-year pencil and bubble sheet test. Your child means immeasurably more than just a number generated in Austin. There is no test that can assess all of what makes each child unique.

The state mandated assessments are used by the state to score and rank our campuses and our district, however, this is not the only assessment we use for Paris ISD students. We have higher standards. Your child’s achievements must be measured by a multitude of accomplishments throughout the year. Your individual child’s academic growth is what is important, and we assess your child’s growth from the start of the school year to the end of the school year. In contrast, your child is assessed by the state with a criterion-referenced test (STAAR), which assesses how your child performs on a single day and uses those results to compare your child to a predetermined standard set by bureaucrats in Austin and a testing company headquartered in London, England.

We all know students do not master skills at the same rate; each individual child has their strengths and weaknesses. This single test cannot measure what we know about your child. Many of our students play sports, play musical instruments, dance, sing, speak multiple languages, write and perform poetry or songs, and create amazing works of art. We have students working multiple jobs at night to help support their family. Many of our students are the main caregivers for younger siblings late into the evening hours. Our classrooms are reflective of a multi-faceted student involved in a wide variety of activities, both academic and extra-curricular. It is not just drill and kill for one test.

Although the data from this assessment will help us know when to offer enrichment or intervention, we will use the state assessment for the purpose the original assessment system was created–a diagnostic tool for identifying areas of concern as well as strengths. Individual student data will be aligned with local assessment data to develop educational plans that ensure continued progress for our students. Your child’s growth and love of learning are our main goals at PISD. Unfortunately, bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. and Austin have designed a one-size-fits-all assessment system that doesn’t necessarily reflect your individual child’s growth and achievements. Our students, not the state assessment, will be our main focus and top priority. Our instructional goals are to prepare each child to be college and/or career ready for the 21st Century.

So, yes, we live in a time when standardized test results are a reality. However, let’s not let the STAAR test overshadow what is truly important–each individual child. Let us not forget to celebrate the vast and numerous accomplishments and successes the students of PISD have achieved this school year. It has been a great one!

Paul Jones,

Superintendent Paris Independent School District

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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