Region 5 school superintendents recently met with Susan Kelner, of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, and decided the presentation is something all parents and people in the community needed to hear.

The program is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 7 at 350 Pine Street, in Beaumont, which is known as the Entergy building.

Area superintendents hope everyone will attend the presentation.

“It would certainly be advantageous to any parent, educator, or community member, to have a better understanding of what’s going on with the legislature with the restrictions and requirements that they are placing on students’ education, “ said Pauliine Hargrove, superintendent for Little Cypress-Mauriceville CISD. “Additionally, they would have a better grasp of the impact of some of these decisions that are being made. In and of themselves, some of the solutions being proposed sound fine. However, when one considers the total impact, they quickly learn that they may be giving up more than they are receiving.”

TAMSA is a statewide, grassroots organization comprised of parents and other community members concerned with the overemphasis on high stakes State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests and the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars used to administer these tests that could be going to the classroom. Their mission is to improve public education in Texas through the use of meaningful and effective student assessments to allow for more productive classroom instruction and more efficient use of public funds.

“School districts are not against accountability,” said Mike King, Bridge City superintendent. “But there is too much testing.”

Hargrove agrees and stated all districts need forms of accountability, but also need for it to be transparent so people can look at the measures and have a clear picture of how their students, as well as their school and district, are doing.

According to information from TAMSA, Texas is spending over $1.2 billion dollars for testing from the year 2000 through 2015 which equates to $2 spent every second of every day for 15 years.

They also state, “high-stakes” testing is not preparing students for post secondary education. In addition, the STAAR tests in Texas requires students to pass more than four times the average of tests to graduate than other states who require exit exams. Only 25 states require students to pass exit exams to graduate from high school.

State Representative Joe Deshotel has filed HB 1423  which is a bill that completely eliminates high stakes testing. The bill will be heard by the Public Education committee on March 12, and he encourages parents, students and educators to have their voices heard by testifying before the committee, or calling or writing their Representatives.

“Over the past year and a half I have listened to the concerns of parents, students and educators about our public school’s broken accountability system. This bill maintains rigor and accountability while expanding the number of pathways to graduation for High School students. The elimination of “teaching to the test” and giving more options to students should decrease our dropout rate and increase workforce readiness program,” Deshotel said in a statement.

HB 1423 bill not only eliminates state high-stakes testing as a graduation requirement and the 15 percent of end-of-course tests counting toward course grades but also specifies higher education as 4-year and 2-year and technical schools

The bill requires the Texas Education Agency to adopt nationally recognized, norm-reference tests in grades 3-8 in reading, mathematics and science consistent with the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

It will also require high school guidance counselors to provide students with information regarding post secondary opportunities in both college and the workforce. In addition, to authorizing school districts to use high school allotment funding for workforce readiness program.

Texas educators are also watching for HB 5. This bill offers accountability reform as well as flexibility with Graduation Plans.  It also creates a rating system for districts and campuses with a letter grade of “A-F” based on standardized assessments.

All Texas school districts and campuses are rated based on federal and state expectations. Under federal accountability, districts either meet AYP or they do not. However, under the state accountability, district campuses receive ratings such as exemplary, recognized, acceptable or unacceptable ratings.

“One day, one test does not determine our accountability,” King said. “What we want is a full range of accountability. You just don’t get a full picture on one day tests.”

Hargrove stated there are other solutions to the one day, one test system which includes multiple methods of assessing  and would be more effective, such as, portfolios, student projects, or student innovations.

The Texas Education Agency announced 44 percent of Texas school campuses met the Adequate Yearly Progress, known as the AYP, which is a federal accountability system. During the 2011-12 school year, the state tests were changed to the STAAR which replaced the TAKS which had been given for the previous eight years.

Over the past three years, the federal AYP system has increased passing expectations 14 percentage points in reading/language arts and 16 percentage points in math. By the 2013-14 school year, 100 percent of students will be expected to pass both the math and reading STAAR assessments.

“One hundred percent of anything is difficult,” King said.

King said it is important to him the school districts provide a well rounded education and not just a “bunch of good test takers.”

“We don’t want that test to determine how we teach our kids,” King said.

The STAAR tests are the current method for assessing student performance, which lead to accountability ratings. Because the STAAR is now timed for 4 hours and it is much more rigorous and there are more questions than the TAKS, it is much harder for students and causes significant stress to everyone involved. It could be more effective if the State would allow districts to be flexible in the administration of the exam. If a child has to stop the test for any reason, including going to the restroom, the timer does not stop, which counts against the student. Also, a 4 hour test is not what students are accustomed to. By “best teaching standards”, a teacher would never give an individual a 4 hour test. The state has determined teachers should use “best practices” on a daily basis, however, they have chosen to use a testing format that does not adhere to “best practices standards.” Most adults would have trouble taking a four hour test, much less students of every age, according to Hargrove.

King would also like to see some changes in the graduation plan with added flexibility. The “four by four” has three levels with two parts, the distinguished and recommended, for students on the college track. An added third phase would be a minimum which would allow a broader education into technology classes.

According to King,  the “four by four program” is a “good plan, but cuts vocational classes.” It consists of four years each of math, English, science and social studies. He added, the high school now offers three welding classes. In addition,  students have signed up to take a class on the principals of manufacturing and career connections classes.

‘The four by four plan is what has caused the career and technology classes to be trimmed down,” King said.

Local superintendents are not the only ones voicing their opinions. Across the state, school districts passed a resolution in to take a stand against “high stakes standardized testing.” As of August 22, 705 school districts representing more than 3.9 million students notified the Texas Association of School Administrators, they had adopted the resolution during their school board meetings.

In the meantime, parents can help their children to pass the STAAR tests by making sure their students have prompt and regular attendance at school, a regular study place and time in the home, the parents’ support for education, encouragement for the child to avoid overstressing, attending campus information sessions, and have frequent conferences with teachers.  It is also recommended parents work closely with the school and inform the teacher when they student is having difficulty or doesn’t understand. Also, keeping in touch with teachers by e-mail is a huge help. When students know parents and teachers are communicating, sometimes on a daily basis, they tend to pay more attention to getting their business in order.

“First and foremost, it is the parent’s priority on education that will have the most impact,” Hargrove said. “The more involved the parent is with the child’s education, the more successful the student is. There is an abundance of evidence to support this.”

Mike King and Pauline Hargrove pictured above.