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Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott speaks at the TASA midwinter conference in Austin. PHOTO by MARJORIE KAMYS COTERA


Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott said Tuesday that the state testing system has become a “perversion of its original intent” and that he was looking forward to “reeling it back in.”

Addressing 4,000 school officials at the Texas Association of School Administrators’ annual midwinter conference, Scott said that he believed testing was “good for some things,” but that in Texas it has gone too far. He said that he was frustrated with what he saw as his “complicitness” in the bureaucracy that testing and accountability systems have thrust on schools.

The remarks, which mirrored those he made at a State Board of Education meeting last week, have been his most forceful on the topic since the last legislative session, when lawmakers slashed state funding to public education by $4 billion. The budget cuts have spurred at least four different lawsuits against the state from school districts arguing they have not received adequate funding to meet increasingly high state accountability standards. The cuts come as the state is rolling out a rigorous new state student assessment system in the spring.

Uncertainty around the implementation of STAAR — and whether students and teachers will be able to meet the new requirements with reduced resources — has caused deep anxiety around the state. With the new system, high school students’ scores on exams will count 15 percent toward their final grades in the corresponding course for the first time.

Halfway through the school year, many districts are still determining how they will apply that rule to their grading policies, and the variations from district to district were the subject of a recent House Public Education Committee meeting. At the hearing, parents and school leaders expressed concern that the differing policies would hurt students, and questioned the need to apply the new rules in the first year of the test.

Scott said today that if he had the authority — which he said he doesn’t — he would waive the 15-percent requirement in the first year as students adjusted to the test.

Scott, who received a standing ovation at the end of his address, also predicted that there would be a “backlash” against standardized testing during the next legislative session. But he said that the new tests, which are course-based rather than subject-based, would be better for students in the long run and that the transition provided a chance to create a new accountability system that accounts for “what happens on every single day in the life of a school besides testing day.”

“We have a huge opportunity to move kids farther and better than we ever thought possible,” Scott said. “And I do not want to blow that opportunity.”

MORGAN SMITH reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.

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9 thoughts on “Texas schools chief: Testing has gone too far

  1. Perhaps now, with the important end of course exams (STAAR), school districts such as SMCISD will re-evaluate the wisdom of allowing “exam exemptions.”

    Exam exemptions, often used as a reward for daily attendance or merely a passing grade in a class, are a strong message to students that they do not need to demonstrate subject mastery or a strong performance on any given day. However, this is contradictory to so many things in life.

    Life is full of times when there are no “do over” opportunities – the sooner we teach our young people this important lesson the sooner we will be able to compete with others that seem to “get it right the first time.”

  2. I think perhaps you overestimate the benefit or consequence of exams and exam exemptions.

    That being said, our school system in general needs to be seriously reworked in my humble. Kudos to Scott for actually having the stones to call out the elephant in the room regarding high stakes testing and what it has done to our school system. It IS a perversion, assuming we want our public schools to turn out critical, creative, and informed people who are able to think on their feet – you know the kind of people we need, more or less by definition, for our particular governing system to function properly and not turn into a plutocracy. I’m not holding my breath regarding Scott’s pronunciation leading much anywhere though.

  3. “I think perhaps you overestimate the benefit or consequence of exams and exam exemptions.” Perhaps.

    Life is full of “tests” with deadlines and school should be no different.

    Some examples:
    Just about every sporting event;
    Tax returns;
    A day in court (for all parties concerned);
    Every medical and dental procedure;
    An election;
    A space shuttle launch (or re-entry);
    Auto repair;
    … you get the idea.

    What I want is a lawyer, doctor or plumber who “gets it right the first time” with no “do overs.” We all cheer an athlete who excels at that critical moment on game day regardless how good they may be in practice.

    Complaining about “high stakes testing” is an excuse to be MEDIOCRE – a condition that we are all too good at.

    End of rant… Bring on the tests!

  4. If you are arguing for standards and accountability, yes, I’m totally down with that. No problems here; indeed, I feel we are killing ourselves culturally by not holding ourselves accountable on a societal level in many, many ways (I would say we start with political corruption and move on down the line).

    I was simply arguing that final exams and exemptions are not the place to begin making a stand if you want to make a more than a superficial change in our schools and what they are doing. Getting rid of exemptions will mean little about whether a student has learned or not or whether our schools are doing their jobs very well…but, exemptions might very well act as an incentive to get someone to show up for school rather than staying home and playing World of Warcraft and that might not be a bad thing. Either way, I don’t think it does much more than scratch the surface of our public educational problems which are near legion in my mind (they are, after all, but a reflection of society)…

    And I stand firmly with Scott in believing that high stakes tests have perverted what our education system is supposed to be about because they are forcing schools to make the logical choice of teaching directly to the test rather than setting up an environment where students can learn how to develop their thought process.

    If you read about what economists say about the subject, there is general consensus that the requisite skill set for thriving in the future economy is going to involve thinking on one’s feet, being creative, logical, and effective communication. Or, the kind of stuff we are increasingly NOT able to focus on imparting in our schools because we are increasingly teaching kids how to answer a “ABCD” scantron using test-taking strategies that are of little use in the real world of being a doctor, lawyer, or plumber which I value just as greatly as you. It is the time and effort being spent focusing on passing these high stakes tests that are leading us to “mediocrity” not those who are saying maybe we should rethink where this all is going.

    Now, if you actually had a legitimate assessment that measured the kinds of skills our education should be passing along to the next generation, supporting this would be a entirely different manner. But, I seriously doubt these tests are going to manage this. What I am betting they will do, however, is cause our dropout rates to soar, along with the amount of students graduating on the minimum plan. Our advanced students, meanwhile, will not be getting pushed as far or as hard as they could be, nor in as creative of ways, because so much more time will be devoted to preparing for these tests that do not measure learning or thinking or any other real world skill, but instead measure one’s ability to pass a test…and how would this be good for us? How is this a good investment for the taxpayer?

    And this says nothing of the collusion and back room political deals hatched to create and process the test or where much of the taxpayer’s money goes in various other ways to support it, from “TAKS pep rallies” or “Pass the STAAR Test!” banners and buttons, etc.

    If you wanna make your head spin, look who produces our tests, textbooks, supplementary materials and look who they give political contributions to and then tell me this still sounds like a good plan.

    And this says nothing about the expense that goes into the making of the tests themselves and how much it costs to moderate them and the sheer draconian regulations created to moderate them…

    …nor the ethics of elementary children throwing up from the stress of a test whose sacred importance is drilled into their heads over and over or the harassing of parents to bring their sick children to school because it is test day (I’ve actually witnessed one case where a vice-principal argued with a parent to bring their kid from the hospital to school to take the test)…

    In short, what you call making excuses for mediocrity, I call trying to avoid foolishly heading us down a path where mediocrity might be a better alternative…

  5. If MikeO’s charge is accurate — that students who merely have a passing grade in a class often are exempt from taking STAAR exams — this state is in more trouble than I thought. Texas, with its lazy, anti-science academic dogma, risks falling further behind in the national and global marketplace of ideas, labor and capital.

    Might we become the next Michigan, Illinois or North Carolina? If we do, it won’t be the high cost of our labor, the crushing overhead of our unions, or our inability to match the advantages of foreign competitors that does us in. All we need is to cripple our graduates by handing them an education shaped by religious conservatives who somehow see science as a threat to faith itself.

    I fear that is what we’re doing. But hey, if you’re holding down a C in math…not to worry! No need to take that test. But as you head out of your high school graduation, just be sure to grab a hardhat and a giant bottle of Vivarin, because your Chinese-owned employer will expect you to work lots of overtime with no pay.

    That’s what losing looks like, and we’re setting up our kids to do just that.

  6. No one will be exempt from STAAR EOC exams…that’s not what he was talking about…the STAAR tests are moving into the place once kinda occupied by Final Exams…TAKS used to be during the school year and no one was exempt, well unless you had a SPED ticket that got you exempt from the consequences and rigor of the test everyone else was taking and those exceptions will still be there with STAAR (and that is a WHOLE other issue to discuss if you want to talk about so-called “standards)…the exemptions he was referring to were for teacher produced Final Exams…those will not happen anymore, at least not at the end of the year for the core 9-11 classes (English, Social Studies, Math, and Science)…there might still be exemptions for the mid-terms in December though if districts like or for non-core classes (and usually they are used as incentive to get kids to show up to school for ADA $$$ – there are arguments to be made on both sides if this is good or not)…

  7. Thanks for the clarification, Keith.

    My daughter has aced out of finals for the past several years at Texas State…but that’s the point: she had an A average going into the final. That makes sense to me.

    As for incentives to get kids to show up to school, I would direct parents to the proven best practice implemented in my house growing up: It was a little technique called “My Dad’s Boot in My A**.”

    Very effective, with clear objectives and specific consequences for failing to attain your goal. And it had a built-in reward: no more boot!

  8. I don’t know the solution. But I do know that other countries have overtaken us in education and because of that the future of many our children will be bleak. There are no longer many American factories where a blue collar worker can have a career that pays enough to raise a family, have decent healthcare, and send the kids to college. Some other countries have figured this out. We’ve been heading in the wrong direction and I really fear for the future of our grandkids.

  9. We need some form of independently graded testing. There should be NO EXEMPTION whatsoever for any student subsidized by my tax dollars. If you accept funding for any category of students, (including but not limited to special education) then you must also accept liability for their scores. If the school administrators do not want Zeros averaged in with their regular students, then refuse to accept (or permanently remove) those who are unable or unwilling to actually earn proper grades. Although each citizen has the right to an education, we have the right to verify if issued grades are true or false.
    The scores should be similar to issued grades. I understand that a kid could be sick on test day and score lower than usual, or a student may have had independent tutoring just before the test. If there is a significant deviation between test scores and grades, then I suspect teacher/administration bias either for or against certain students. Checking for significant deviation due to potential falsified grades should be the main reason for standardized testing.

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