There is no state that has invested as much time, money, and belief in standardized testing as Texas. The deep belief that regular measurement will produce great results has been a dogma in that state. Its testing regime was the model for No Child Left Behind, which is now viewed as a failed law that set impossible targets and real punishments.
But that confidence has been shaken, as this special report in the Dallas Morning News shows, because test scores foremost districts have been stagnant for three years. Instead of blaming teachers and students, pictmakersare casting a skeptical eye at the tests–and maybe even at their dogmatic commitment to testing as a cure all. This is a state where the legislature it billions out of the school budget, expected schools to do better with larger classes and fewer resources, and counted on testing to make everything right.
Reporters Jeffrey Weiss and Holly K. Hacker write:
“For Texas school districts high-achieving and low, affluent and not, urban and suburban, the lack of progress on STAAR is consistent.
“Three years of stagnant statewide average test scores were matched by flat results in the districts where most Texas students attend, according to an analysis by The Dallas Morning News.
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
“When STAAR debuted, state education leaders assumed scores would climb as they did with STAAR’s predecessor, TAKS. But no district larger than a Class 5A high school has shown significant progress on most STAAR tests compared with the state. Even for the smallest districts, about as many have lost ground as gained.
“And that feeds into questions being asked with increasing urgency by parents and politicians: Do these scores mean students aren’t learning? Or are the tests bad at measuring what kids know?”
And the elected officials are turning against the test mania:
“As a practical and political matter, Texas’ standardized tests are in trouble.
“Last year, lawmakers killed 10 of the 15 planned end-of-course exams for secondary schools. More pullback may be in the offing for next year’s session. The Texas Education Agency is even asking for $30 million to develop accountability measures that don’t depend so much on testing.
“Republican and Democratic candidates have all campaigned on cutting the number and use of the tests. Legislators peppered state education officials with tough questions during recent hearings. And many of those questions had to do with the gap between predictions and reality for STAAR scores.”
The reporters note that the tests are defended by the state education comissioner, but he was never an educator. Before Governor Rick Perry appointed him, he headedanagrncy charged with regulating the energy industry. We can assume that in Texas under a Republican governor, the energy industry is a lot less regulated than the public schools.
Weiss and Hacker ask a great question:
“Imagine putting a pot of food on the stove, putting a thermometer in the pot and walking away for a while. When you come back, the thermometer reading hasn’t changed. Is the problem with the stove, something unexpected in the pot or a busted thermometer?”
Mor and more parents, educators, and elected officials are saying that the thermometer is broken.