Texans demand changes to current testing system

By Chris Caraveo

Texans feel that the current requirements of standardized testing diminish the education of students. Opponents of standardized testing gathered at the Texas Capitol for the Save Our Schools rally on Saturday to demand a change in state testing.

Since the 2011-12 school year, the Texas Education Code requires students in Texas to take the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, also known as STAAR. A student’s performance on the test determines whether or not he or she will advance to the next grade level. In Texas high schools, students must pass 15 End-of-Course exams in the core subjects of mathematics, English, science and social studies. A student’s failure to pass all of them prevents him or her from graduating under the recommended or distinguished diploma plan.

The Texas Education Code, Section 39.023(c), also instructs Texas high schools to count EOC exam scores as 15% of a student’s final grade in each course tested on. It took effect for the 2011-12 year but the Texas Commissioner of Education postponed this requirement for the next two school years as legislators try to improve the testing system.  

Opponents of these requirements have already started to take action by going to legislative meetings on public education and voicing their displeasure over the rule.

Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, or TAMSA, is a group of concerned parents that seek to improve public education in Texas. While proponents of the 15% grade requirement argue that it is necessary in order for students to take testing seriously, TAMSA argues that having to pass 15 exams to graduate is incentive enough.

The test requirements to graduate take away time from learning, as teachers have to get students to pass a test rather than learn, Stacey Amick said.

“They are excessive and the tests are deeply flawed,” Amick, a parent of two middle school students, said. “Texas requires far and above any other state. It destroys kids’ love of learning and subjects them to test driven instruction.”

In comparison with her own education, Amick said that back in 1988 communities trusted that teachers knew what to teach their students. She graduated in 1988 and was the last class that did not have to pass a test to graduate. She said she has done well since then.

She does not feel the same way about students today, she said.

“I fear the emphasis on testing has caused a cook-book style approach that leaves kids without the skills they need after high school,” she said. “Testing doesn’t fix that problem. It is the problem.”

Even if EOC exams are needed to graduate, TAMSA said that 15 is overburdening. Instead, it wants students to only have to pass three exams to graduate.

Currently, a passing score in science is between 30 and 40 percent, Karen Peck, a board member for TAMSA, said.

Peck worries about the rigor of the test. She said that no one objects to rigor, but the tests go beyond that with questions that are not essential to a student’s education.

“What does ‘rigor’ mean if a test is written so that the passing score ends up being set between 30 and 40%? Does it mean that the test was designed to be written so that barely anyone could pass it?

“And if the passing score is 35 or 40%, what does that tell us about the test? What value does the test add?”

Mary Ann Whitaker, superintendent of Hudson Independent School District, said at the Save Texas Schools rally on Saturday that tests are killing our students, our teachers, and most importantly, our children.

“We do not treasure a test,” she said.

However, taxpayers have contributed plenty of money to Pearson, a British company that designs the tests for Texas students, according to TAMSA’s data collection. Texas taxpayers will have paid about 1.2 billion dollars in taxes that fund state assessment tests from 2000-2015. Each year the amount of taxes paid to Pearson has increased and will reach nearly 99 million dollars in 2015.

Despite the increase, Susan Aspey, vice president of media relations at Pearson, said that the amount spent by TEA for assessments was 0.19 percent of the $47.4 billion education budget for grades K-12 in Texas for 2011-2012. She said this is less than the national average as cited in the Brookings Institution report Strength in Numbers in November 2012.

Still, opponents want to lessen the number of tests students have to take, in order to spend less on exams. They hope the legislature makes critical changes to the system during the 2013 session. 

John Kuhn, a supporter of Save Texas Schools, compared the demand for improved public education to the Texans’ fight for independence from Mexico.

“Last year may have been our Alamo,” Kuhn said at the rally, “but this year may be our San Jacinto.”

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