Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) recently met with local superintendents from Orange County with a purpose of discussing education issues in preparation for the 83rd Legislature which convenes in January.

“The Legislature faces many challenges this session, and we cannot make good decisions unless we are listening closely to those we represent,” Nichols said. “Education is and always will be one of the most important issues we face as a state.”

Nichols said the meeting went “very well” and was “productive” as they discussed not only the problems but solutions. Much of what was discussed during the meeting with Orange educators is what is on the minds of other superintendents across the state.

According to Nichols, most of the conversation was dedicated to the testing such as the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness which replaced the TAKS during the 2011-12 school year. The TAKS had been given for the previous eight years.

Nichols said the superintendents were all in agreement about accountability, but thought the testing was “too much” and it disrupts the school. During the testing, certain conditions must be met such as having certified teachers  on hand, hall monitors which are disruptive and to pull teachers from other areas to meet the requirements.

In addition, the school overall may be doing very well but if one child in 30 drops below a certain number in the testing, then the school is rated unacceptable.

“They are graded on the lowest score,” Nichols said.

The superintendents also stated it is a common problem that school districts are forced to teach the test. In addition, by spending so much time on testing, it not only stresses out the teachers, but the students as well.

Ideas discussed to alleviate some of the problems may be to test every other year instead of the current yearly testing.

‘This is a way to test the school and the child as an individual,” Nichols said.

Nichols gave an example of a child who may take the test as a freshman. If they fail the test then then have time to  take tutorials since they can’t be forced to go to school during the summer, they can be caught up for the next round of  testing. For some this may be what they need.

The 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.

Over the past three years, the federal Adequate Yearly Progress 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 CISD.

Before each legislative session Nichols meets with each of the school district superintendents in Senate District 3 to listen to their priorities and discuss issues facing the local education community.

Nichols had met with about 60 educators. Within the next few days, he intends to meet with many more to collect information.

Nichols has also met with Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams who is also hearing from educators about the testing problems.

‘Some of the things he can fix, but things that are in statute will be left up to the Legislature to fix,” Nichols said.

Senate District 3, which includes over 100 school districts throughout 19 counties, encompasses the greater part of East Texas and Montgomery County.

“These meetings help me to understand how decisions in Austin impact local schools,” stated Nichols.  “I appreciate the opportunity to meet with superintendents and discuss how we can continue improving our education system. Our combined goal is to ensure children have the educational tools they need to have fulfilling and prosperous lives.”

Pictured: Senator Robert Nichols and his staff recently met with Orange County educators to discuss not only problems they face but solutions as well.