Texas school districts take stand against standardized testing
As one of his first duties, newly appointed Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams, has written a letter of intent to request waivers in response to the No Child Left Behind Act.
The No Child Left Behind act requires all students to perform at grade level 100 percent in reading and math by 2014. A waiver relieves states from facing federal sanctions for failing to meet the deadline. To receive a waiver, states agree to develop plans “to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction,” according to the Department of Education.
States are granted conditional waivers from NCLB if the Department of Education accepts their proposal to raise standards, tie teacher evaluations to test scores and create new accountability systems which reward or punish schools based on performance.
In February, the first group of states approved are Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island, making for a total of 19 states that are no longer bound by the law. Seventeen other states and Washington, D.C., also applied in the second round, but their plans have not yet been accepted. Vermont also applied but has since dropped out.
But unlike the other states, Texas may appeal under U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s general authority to waive federal requirements rather than under a specific waiver Duncan began offering states last year. State officials have resisted applying for the second type of waiver, saying the strings attached like the requirement that states adopt certain college-ready and career-ready standards which can amount to federal overreach.
“Receiving a waiver from the AYP would enable our accountability ratings to reflect what is really happening in our schools. It would be a more accurate reflection of achievement and student performance by assessing all of the subjects being studied, not just math and reading. LCM students have also excelled in science, social studies, and writing, but those are not considered in the AYP assessment, “ said Pauline Hargrove, Little Cypress-Mauriceville superintendant.
The request, which the state will officially file in early 2013, is for a general exemption from the law in the hopes that the state wouldn’t have to adhere to the conditions of the waiver Duncan has offered to all the states.
No Child Left Behind passed in Congress 10 years ago. It was one of President George W. Bush’s signature legislative accomplishments and was hailed by its supporters as bringing accountability to education by stressing standardized testing and threatening sanctions if schools failed to show progress.
Widespread dissatisfaction with the law quickly developed. Parents, educators and elected officials blame it for weakening classroom instruction in order to “teach to the test.”
Which lead to across the state of Texas, school districts have been passing a resolution to take a stand against “high stakes standardized testing.” As of Aug. 22, 705 school districts representing more than 3.9 million students have notified the Texas Association of School Administrators, they have adopted the resolution during their school board meetings.
In recent headlines were reports from The Texas Education Agency which announced 44 percent of Texas school campuses met the Adequate Yearly Progress, known as the AYP, which is a federal accountability system. However, the Bridge City school district was the only public district in Orange County this year to meet the federal standards set by the U.S. Department of Education under the NCLB.
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.
“We are not in a position like some districts across the State, that are facing the consequences of having staff replaced, monitors assigned, their school systems changed, and in some instances they could even be closed. If the rating comes from a fair audit, that is acceptable. If those measures are based on students from different subgroups who are being counted as failures when they have actually passed the exam, as are those above the 3 percent federal cap on special needs, they are not helping advance education, they are hurting,” Hargrove said.
During the 2011-12 school year, the state tests were changed to the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness 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, according to information from the LC-M ISD.
“The federal accountability is not only unfair, but outdated,” said Stephen Patterson, Orangefield I.S.D. superintendent. “A lot has changed.”
Patterson said recent changes have included the change from the Texas Assessment Of Knowledge and Skills test, which was given for eight years, to the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness tests.
“The STAAR is more rigorous,” he said.
Patterson added, it is not that the schools do not want accountability.
“But, one snapshot — is that really fair,” he asks.
“We need to be about improving education for all students so that they can be successful in a global market,” Hargrove added.
Photo: OISD Superintendent Stephen Patterson