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February 2nd, 2012
Texas schools chief’s remarks on testing draw blacklash

Robert Scott, the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, at a State Board of Education meeting on Sept. 24, 2010. PHOTO by BISE HU

by MORGAN SMITH

Some high-profile members of the education community aren’t pleased with Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott’s speech on Tuesday criticizing the role of testing in Texas public schools.

Speaking to 4,000 school officials at the Texas Association of School Administrators’ annual midwinter conference, Scott received a standing ovation when he called for an accountability system that measured “what happens on every single day in the life of a school besides testing day.” He also said that he would not certify a ban on social promotion next year unless schools received more money from the state to offer remedial classes to students.

Uncertainty about student performance on the rigorous new state STAAR exams has caused concern across the state as schools also grapple with a $5 billion-plus reduction in state funding that lawmakers enacted during the last legislative session.

“I think he owes all of the legislators an explanation of his comments,” said state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, a chief architect of the legislation that created STAAR. Shapiro, the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she was “blown away” by the commissioner’s remarks in light of his repeated testimony during the legislative session that schools would have enough money to move forward with STAAR.

“That’s a direction I’ve never heard him take,” she said, adding, “He’s been the one that’s been talking about school accountability over the years. We’ve all been a part of this. School accountability is something we started many, many years ago, and we believe in it.”

During a House Public Education Committee hearing last week on the STAAR implementation, parents and school leaders expressed concern about a lack of clarity surrounding the exams’ various requirements, with some going so far as to ask for a delay in tests’ consequences for students.

But that will not happen without a fight. The Texas Association of Business, the state’s largest business group, plans to take out a full-page ad in tomorrow’s Austin American-Statesman urging lawmakers not to postpone the rollout of the exams. In an interview, Bill Hammond, the group’s president and a fierce accountability advocate, blasted Scott, who also said the state’s testing system had become a “perversion of its original intent.”

Calling Scott a “cheerleader for mediocrity,” Hammond said that the fact that the state was forced to reduce funding to education was not a reason to retreat on accountability standards for schools.

“Every time we’ve gone through this, the standard has been met, and it has resulted in a better educated work force,” Hammond said. “I do not understand Commissioner Scott’s making excuses for the educators.

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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6 thoughts on “Texas schools chief’s remarks on testing draw blacklash

  1. “Calling Scott a “cheerleader for mediocrity,” Hammond said that the fact that the state was forced to reduce funding to education was not a reason to retreat on accountability standards for schools.”

    It looks like Bill Hammond and I have something in common – a penchant for the word “mediocrity” – I look forward to his full-page ad.

    There are so many issues here that it is hard to pick just 1 – collectively, this is quite disappointing.

  2. Educators don’t try to tell hedge funds or car dealerships how to run their business. It’s time business leaders stuck to business and get out of the way. People like Bill Hammond are making me HATE business people and their interference in the political process. My kids are suffering in public education from the excessive testing requirements. I want them to learn handwriting, not how to bubble in a scantron sheet. We need to throw out Pearson Testing and take back our schools from these right wing idiots.

  3. “Every time we’ve gone through this, the standard has been met, and it has resulted in a better educated work force,” Hammond said.

    Uh, no, that is quite far from the truth. Laughingly so.

    Indeed since we have become obsessed with these red herring, inept, simplistic measuring sticks that measure FALSE STANDARDS many in education believe we are actually watering down the education and critical thinking ability our schools offer our youth. Look at the state dropout rate and what percentage of those who do graduate and make it college need to be remediated on basic skills (and the % is rising) if you want some hard evidence of how well these fake standards have worked out with our “better educated work force.” Talk to a teacher with a couple of decades worth of experience and ask them if our schools are providing a better education now than before.

    The argument is not whether standards should be created (and then actually enforced across the board, what a f’ing concept…that is kind of implicit in the word “standard” right?), but whether these assessments actually measure something of meaning. And most people actually in education who can think their way out off a theoretical wet paper bag have serious misgivings and concerns that SHOCKINGLY, our fearless political leaders maybe have not thought this all the way through….yet again.

    If I had to guess we will end up with a system that does very little to measure the real world practical, creative, critical thinking knowledge stuff I think Hammond (well, I cannot speak for him; he is an uber-lobbyist and in my world view lobbyists are little more than parasites on the body politic) and you would like our schools to produce MikeO (and no argument here on that point). They will, instead, actually move us further away from enjoying a knowledgable, critical, creative population. The welfare numbers will probably go up though, as well as crime, poverty, along with a diminishing of the democratic participation. These are all good things, right? Well, I suppose if I were a politician it does at least make my job of target marketing campaigning easier if more people drop out of the system. Just saying…

    Then once we sacrifice a few classes of kids and there is enough of a blowback from the public, we will probably figure a way to allow a gaming of the system for those with enough social capital and water it down to such an extent that on paper at least our political leaders like Tsarina Shapiro can point to the “great success” they have had thereby hopefully stifle the litigation that will inevitably come when some suburban Plano cheerleader does not walk the stage although she passed all her classes, but failed that Algebra 2 EOC STAAR exam whose results did not even come in until after Princess had already sent out 500 announcements and mom had bought a full page ad in the yearbook. Actually, this would at least be an entertaining fight to watch. But, I digress.

    I’m guessing for political purposes we will manipulate the “standard” so much and water it down until even if it was a good idea in the first place (and it wasn’t based upon the track record of the folks involved) it will hardly measure anything by the end of it. But, it will provide cover for the politicians so they can stay in office. Indeed, this might very well be the reason Scott is coming out now with this noise as our fearless leaders try to stifle the coming din before it even starts.

    Perhaps the standards can even be manipulated to such an extent that we can repeat the so-called “Texas Miracle” that made our schools such beacons of hope the last time they were pulling this stuff out of the magic hat for TAKS and which led to the very successful NCLB..which, just like STAAR now and TAAS in the 80s, was the surefire cure-all that was finally going to bring accountability to our public ed system…good for a laugh at least…

    At any rate, in about 10 years or so Texas will roll out some new system with a neat-o acronym that will promise to fix the broken down STAAR test that, shockingly, didn’t work out like they hoped, even with the 1.3 billion or whatever it will have been spent on it by then…

    And what will we have produced? Once again, based upon the track record of these people in the past, a school system that is worse for the wear, dropout numbers approaching 50%, rising levels of social problems like poverty…

    But, here is the saving grace friends: the testing companies and textbook suppliers (don’t forget all those glossy supplementals and banners and software) will have profited nicely (well, it is the job of government to “create jobs” right?), politicians like Dewhurst and Shapiro will continue to receive political donations and swag from the testing & textbook lobby (see above), the state education bureaucracy will have ensured their continued, bloated employment for another decade (see job comment above)…and then they can wash, rinse, and repeat it over and over again…sigh, another sunny day in the Republic…

  4. Keith – thanks for posting your comments – we are actually much closer in philosophy than you might think – we should have coffee some day.

    As I said above, there are many issues (wrong) here.

    A “Passing” score on the Grade 9 math TAKS is 54% correct, Grade 11 math is 52%. So, no doubt the definition of passing STAAR will be manipulated – thus further politicizing public education.

    Senator Shapiro and her Plano constituency definitely have an agenda – which may (or may not) be appropriate for the whole of Texas.

    I think Scott (TEA Commissioner) is either very courageous or very naive (or a combination of both) for taking his stand. Only time will tell but it sure makes for an interesting show.

    Testing can be good and it can be bad – either way, high stakes testing is a fact of life:
    Accountant – CPA Exam
    Attorney – Bar Exam
    Doctor – Board Exams
    Plumber – Tradesman, Journeyman, Master Exams
    Mortician – National & State Exams
    … you get the idea!

    Effective teaching is followed by regular testing – not the other way around. Test results mean a lot of things: the student did not learn; the teacher did not teach; the test was not accurate; or a combination of all of these.

    When I taught Algebra 1 & 2 I used a 20+ year old text book, gave a 50 minute test every week, and a cumulative final at both the end of the semester and the end of the year (no exemptions). The results were very good and the State of Texas had absolutely no involvement. My students were ready for the SAT – which, quite frankly, means a lot more than the TAKS!

  5. edit – that should have been:

    Poor test results can mean a lot of things: the student did not learn; the teacher did not teach; the test was not accurate; or a combination of all of these.

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