Archives for category: Texas

Texas is the home of high-stakes testing, and it is also home to some independent school boards who are sick of high-stakes testing. After 20 years or more of using testing to reward, punish, and shame students, teachers, principals, and schools, those closest to the schools know that this strategy has failed. Parent pressure forced the state legislature to back down on plans to expand the number of high-stakes tests from 5 to 15. Almost every school board in the state adopted resolutions opposing the testing regime.

 

Now the Arlington, Texas, school board has passed a resolution calling on the legislature to let local school districts devise their own accountability plans and specifically, to de-emphasize the importance of high-stakes testing. The district has created its own accountability plan, and only two of its 28 measures are test-baed. This may upset the battalion of lobbyists for Pearson, but it reflects the will of the people.

 

Here is the letter that accompanied the resolution (which is linked inside the letter):

 

On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the Arlington ISD, I am writing today to share information about the resolution regarding high-stakes assessments that the Board approved on April 16. The resolution urged the 84th Texas Legislature to end high-stakes assessments and to empower local school board to create and implement local accountability systems using standard measures of student success.

 

Accountability and assessment is a key point within the district’s legislative agenda. While an effective, efficient and equitable academic accountability system is necessary to carry out the mission and objectives of the Texas public education system, Texas’ current accountability system is too complex for school districts to drive continuous improvement for districts and campuses. Assessments should provide standard measures while allowing local superintendents and school boards to control how to respond to those measures but should not cause undue stress to students and families or teacher dissatisfaction and burn-out.

 

With the adoption of the Achieve Today. Excel Tomorrow. strategic plan, the district developed a comprehensive local accountability system. In that system, only two of the 28 measures are related to high-stakes STAAR testing. Other items included in that system are participation and success in rigorous courses, percent of graduating seniors taking and performing well on a college-bound assessment, percent of students on track to graduate on time, college enrollment and success, extracurricular and co-curricular participation, facilities, customer service, and effectiveness of leadership development. Each year, the Board receives a report on the districts’ success relative to the local accountability system. Last year’s report is available online.

 

We will continue to work with legislators throughout the session to encourage local control in establishing a sensible local testing system and setting an accountability system that works for the local community and best serves our students.

 

Sincerely,
Bowie J. Hogg
Board President

Sara Stevenson, librarian at O. Henry Middle School in Austin and a member of the honor roll of this blog, is a relentless thinker and doer. She writes frequently to set the record straight when rightwing ideologues and reformers attack public education. In this post, she questions the rationale behind voucher legislation in Texas, which comes back session after session, a true zombie. Texas is a conservative state, for sure, but every time the subject of vouchers has come up, it has been beaten back by a coalition of rural representatives, mostly Republicans, who value their hometown schools, and urban representatives, mostly Democrats, who don’t want to drain money away from their underfunded public schools. The voucher proponents are back, and Stevenson says it is time to stop them again.

 

She writes:

 

Even though this latest version states that eligible students must
have attended a public school the previous year, once the door opens,
this bill will achieve what it was originally designed to do all
along. As a rural Republican in the Texas House said recently,
“Vouchers are just tax breaks for people who already send their kids
to private schools.”

 

I spent ten years teaching in a private Catholic school in Austin. I
admire greatly the work of private schools and the communities they
serve. However, if parents choose to send their child to a private
school, they do not deserve a tax credit. Just because their child
does not attend a public school does not mean they are not obligated
to support public education. Millions of Texas citizens with no
children of school age pay taxes to support our public schools, which
educates 5 million children. Every citizen benefits from an educated
populace. We used to refer to this concept as the common good.

 

It’s important that we citizens respect our own traditions. The United
States was the first country in the world to enact compulsory, free
education. By this important 19th century innovation, our nation
became a world leader, dominating the 20th century. This value is
inscribed in Article VII of the Texas Constitution.

 

The main difference between public and private schools is that the
latter have enormous freedom to teach what they want. They are
completely free from any state-imposed curricula, accountability, or
punitive testing schemes. They are also exclusive. You must apply to
a private school, and these schools can reject or expel students for
any reason. They do not have to accept the students who wipe their
feces on the bathroom walls or those with a mental age of one and a
half. Will private schools be equipped and willing to serve these
severely disabled children? Will they be able to teach students who
speak languages other than English, a group that comprises almost 20%
of the current Texas public school population?

The details of the Texas voucher plan were released, and the politicians pushing it can’t wait to siphon money away from the state’s underfunded public schools. They show no remorse for cutting $5 billion from the public schools in 2011, and now they are back looking for ways to drain even more money away from the public schools that enroll about 90% of the children in the state.

 

As a graduate of the Houston public schools (San Jacinto High School, class of 1956), I resent that these men are tearing down their community’s public schools. They claim they want to “save poor kids from failing schools,” but the schools aren’t failing: the politicians are failing the schools. Poor kids can’t learn when they don’t have access to decent medical care, when they don’t have enough to eat, when they are deprived of necessities that advantaged families take for granted. Poor kids will learn better if they have smaller class sizes, experienced teachers, and a full curriculum instead of incessant testing. By cutting funding and sending it to religious schools, the Texas legislators will guarantee larger classes and a stripped-down curriculum. Furthermore, while they won’t pay for what kids need, they have set aside millions for the inexperienced temps called Teach for America, most of whom will disappear after two years.

 

I am proud to be a native Texan, but I am not proud of the men who are destroying the public schools that educated me and my family and made it possible for me to go to a good college.

 

If I were in Austin, I would say to State Senator Larry Taylor and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick that vouchers and tax credits (backdoor vouchers) hurt the great majority of children who attend public schools. I would say to them that they should take a trip to Milwaukee, which has had vouchers for 25 years, and is one of the lowest scoring cities on the NAEP federal tests. I would tell them that poor black children in Milwaukee are doing worse in voucher schools than they were in public schools. I would tell them they are cheating the children of Texas, to placate their ideology and their pals in the corporate world.

 

I would tell them to hang their heads in shame.

 

The school board of the Katy, Texas, Independent School District voted unanimously to eliminate high-stakes testing.

This is a bold and dramatic step in a state that inflicted the “miracle” of high-stakes testing on the nation. Up until now, Pearson and its stable of lobbyists have called the shots.

The Katy school board has bravely demanded a return to common sense and real education, where tests are diagnostic and used to help students, not to label them. I place the Katy, Texas, school board on this blog’s honor roll.

“The Board resolution also calls for state-funded local assessments in lieu of the high-stakes tests. Such local assessments would provide detailed diagnostics that could assist students in their learning. However, these assessments would not be considered high-stakes, nor have any bearing on accountability ratings.”

Here is a pathetic contrast that says a whole lot about the politics of education, not only in Texas but across the nation. The latest ethics report in Texas shows that “Texans for Education Reform,” a spinoff of Democrats for Education Reform, has hired 15 lobbyists to work the legislature this session. Most will be paid between $50,000-100,000, some less, some more. One will be paid between $150,000-200,000. This group would not call itself “Democrats for Education Reform” in Texas, because the Democratic Party is out of favor; the constituency this group appeals to would not want to be affiliated with any organization that called itself “Democrats.” The name may be helpful in fooling people in liberal states, but it would be a stigma in Texas.

 

Here is the contrast: the main anti-testing group is led by parents. It is called Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (known to fans as Moms Against Drunk Testing). TAMSA has hired one lobbyist, who will be paid less than $10,000.

 

The lesson: People who are super-rich are pouring big money into politics to kill off public education and replace it with high-stakes testing, charters and vouchers. They don’t care that there is now substantial evidence that most charters do not have higher test scores than similar public schools. They don’t care that voucher schools don’t outperform public schools. What drives them? They say it’s all about the kids but it seems more likely that they just don’t like public education and want to starve it of resources.

Very few parents are expected to opt out in Houston. The culture of testing is so deeply ingrained that few question why their children are subjected to weeks of preparation for bubble tests and for a school year dominated by the tests. Parents and children are afraid of hurting their teacher if they don’t take the tests.

The article goes into depth about the docility created by that culture in a state that claims a strong streak of individualism. Frankly it sounds like the education system creates sheep, not people capable of thinking for themselves.

Read this terrible story:

“A TEACHER at a Montrose elementary school is refusing to administer the test for the same reasons.

”Before moving to Houston I taught in a private school,” says the teacher, who asked that both she and her school not be named. When she first arrived in Houston, she says, she taught at an HISD school outside Montrose, and was horrified by her first glimpse of test culture.

“It was not teaching, it was not learning,” she says. “It created an abusive environment for everyone: children, teachers, administration.” She moved to her current teaching position in Montrose with the idea of eventually starting her own school, and was delighted by the humane environment she found. Until, that is, this February, when she had to administer the DLA, a STAAR length practice test required by the district.

”You have to understand: the school shuts down,” the teacher says. ”There is no teaching. There is no learning. I had to sit there and force fourth grade kids to take four-hour long tests, and do it the next day and the next day, and act to them like it was a totally normal thing. It made me feel like a hypocrite. I was implying to the kids that this is something I believe in.”

“Worse, she says, even when the testing is done a corrosive effect on learning continues.

“Once the testing was over last year, I thought, I’ll actually be able to teach my kids something,” the teacher remembers. “I passed out a story, we read it as a class, and the next day I passed out a quiz. One of my students raised her hand and said, ‘I don’t get it – isn’t there multiple choice?’ She didn’t know what to do when it wasn’t multiple choice and the answers weren’t provided. I don’t feel that my kids understood what learning was.”

“The teacher has decided to leave HISD at the end of this school year. But first, she told her principal, she was going to protest.

”All I will say is that my principal was as understanding as he or she could possibly be,” the teacher says. Instead of administering the exam, the teacher will take personal days during the testing period, offering volunteer enrichment education for students who are opting out.

“Like many parents, though, the teacher broods about the wellbeing of her colleagues. “Unfortunately I can’t make as public a statement as I want to,” she says. “Test culture is a culture of fear. Everybody is terrified. Nobody knows what the consequences of their actions are going to be.”

A few days ago, I saluted Representative Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen, Texas, for his plan to add $3 billion to the public schools’ budget.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, a powerful figure in the state, prefers vouchers.

Happily, the Houston Chronicle published an editorial supporting Aycock and dismissing vouchers. This is the real world, folks, not fantasy land, where wishes are horses. The legislature cut the public schools by $5 billion and has restored only a tiny fraction. Meanwhile the children are majority Hispanic, and they are in public schools. Their schools need the resources, the teachers, the class sizes, and the librarians and social workers to help them now.

The Chronicle says:

“While Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick scampers down a rabbit trail in pursuit of costly school-voucher legislation, an influential public education policymaker in the House is doing what’s right for Texas school children and Texas taxpayers.

“State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, announced last week that the lower chamber will tackle the daunting task of finding a fair and equitable way for the state to fund its public schools.
By taking up the challenge instead of waiting for a state Supreme Court ruling, the low-key Republican chairman of the Public Education Committee shows us what a true representative of the people looks like. A formerKilleen school board member, Aycock does the people’s business with little fanfare, with an effort to be fair and open to all sides and with a goal to getting useful things accomplished….

“Patrick’s beloved voucher scheme would divert taxpayer money from public education to cover all or part of a student’s tuition at a private or religious school, with little or no accountability to the people whose money is being spent. Aycock, on the other hand, understands the urgent need to invest in the state’s public schools and their five million students, 60 percent of them economically disadvantaged. He’s also aware, we’re sure, that the number of low-income students is growing at twice the rate of the overall student population….

“The voucher issue distracts from the fact that public schools, whatever their problems, are the backbone of every Texas community. They require attention and investment.

Aycock’s proposal would add $800 million to the $2.2 billion the House already had allocated to public schools. In the Senate, Patrick and his voucher cohorts, including state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, have proposed about $1.8 billion less for public education than the House. Patrick also is pushing hard for tax cuts worth about $4.6 billion.”

Taylor, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, is sponsoring legislation that would create a $100 million private-school tuition program to help lower-income students pay for private or religious schools. Patrick told the Education Committee last week that the legislation would give approximately 10,000 students an opportunity to escape failing schools, primarily urban schools. Funding would come through donations from businesses, which in turn would receive tax credits.”

“Since the House and Senate are so far apart on the issues, they probably won’t be addressed in depth until a special session this summer. When that happens, we urge lawmakers to look to the man from Killeen for direction and not the man pushing vouchers.”

Representative Jimmie Don Aycock, the chair of the Public Education Committee, declared that the House would allocate $3 billion to public schools. In the past, the legislature has waited for the courts to order them to increase funding.

Jimmie Don Aycock is a Republican from Killeen. He is a hero to more than 5 million public school children in the great state of Texas. I humbly add him to the honor roll of this blog.

“The announcement also could signal a major fight with the Texas Senate, where budget writers have decided they don’t want to spend nearly as much on public schools.

“Texas still is battling a 2011 lawsuit filed by more than 600 school districts — including those in Austin, Pflugerville and Hutto — after state lawmakers made deep cuts to public education to balance a budget shortfall.

“Travis County state District Court Judge John Dietz — who presided over a similar challenge a decade ago — sided with districts yet again last August, saying the school finance system was inadequate, inefficient and imposed an illegal statewide property tax.

“Then-Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed the ruling directly to the state Supreme Court, which announced in late January it would hear the state’s appeal. But a ruling is not expected before the end of the 140-day session, leaving it up to lawmakers to decide what to do with school finance in the meantime.

“Aycock said Wednesday that an informal group of House lawmakers that had been meeting before and during this year’s legislative session, which began in January, first thought that they would wait until the high court rules, but have since had a change of heart — and hope the Texas Senate goes along.

“The Central Texas lawmaker said the decision came down to a fundamental question of “Do you try to do what’s right for children in the state of Texas or do you try to outguess the lawyers?”

A group of activist parents have turned the tide against high-stakes testing in Texas. They organized, informed themselves, informed others, and button-holed their state legislators about the overuse and misuse of testing in Texas’s public schools. Because of their activities and their persistence, they persuaded the legislators to reduce the number of tests needed to graduate. They are continuing their campaign by exposing the cost and continued overuse of standardized testing.

 

The group is called TAMSA, or Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, but admirers often call them “Moms Against Drunk Testing.”

 

They created a powerpoint to explain their concerns.

 

The powerpoint can be seen here. Watch it and consider doing the same thing in your state. If we organize and mobilize like TAMSA, we can turn around legislatures across the nation.

This resolution should be a model for the AFT and the NEA and for their affiliates. Teachers do not oppose testing; they oppose the misuse of testing. Teachers do not oppose accountability; they oppose accountability that is contrary to research and experience, whose purpose is not to improve instruction but to punish teachers for low scores.

The Rochester (NY) Teachers Association adopted the following resolution, unanimously:

RESOLUTION OF RTA REPRESENTATIVE ASSEMBLY

WHEREAS, the volume of mandated summative standardized testing to which students are subjected in the Rochester City School District (“RCSD”) has increased many times over in recent years, and

WHEREAS, a very large amount of learning time is lost through the administration of such tests, while the results of such tests cannot be used for diagnostics or remediation or other educational purposes, and

WHEREAS, such testing generates results that are used for high-stakes decision-making regarding both students (e.g., grade promotion and graduation) and their teachers (e.g., evaluation scores, tenure, retention), and

WHEREAS, the attachment of high stakes to test results necessarily makes such tests the focus of classes in schools, and

WHEREAS, such tests fail to measure the most important qualities schools should seek to develop in students, such as relationship, character, ethical development, critical thinking, persistence, imagination, insight, and collaboration, amongst others, and

WHEREAS, as a result, many students who in fact develop these valued but unmeasured qualities, but who have extreme difficulty with standardized and other paper-and-pencil tests, experience these tests as stressful to the point of abuse, and

WHEREAS, the increasing focus on such testing thus causes severe distortions of schooling, both inflicting trauma on many students and changing schools into test-prep factories that prepare students for little but further testing and lives of resigned obedience, and

WHEREAS, the commitment of substantial resources to testing and evaluation diverts those same resources from the educational needs of students, including the arts, music, other non-tested subjects, the challenges of special needs students and English language learners, moral and ethical development, social and emotional development, internships, practical and workplace skills, project-based, authentic learning opportunities, attention to contemporary cultural and social concerns, deep exploration of subject matters, and many others, and

WHEREAS, such commitment of resources also diverts resources from the professional development needs of teachers, who wish to align their skills to the real needs of students, and

WHEREAS, parents and guardians frequently express dismay that students are subjected to so much testing, and they express confusion about the rights and obligations of children and families
with respect to such testing, as well as about the rationales for the various tests, and

WHEREAS, parents, students, families, teachers, and some districts throughout the state have expressed forceful opposition to the current testing regime, and

WHEREAS, the Rochester Teachers Association (“RTA”) wishes to clarify its stance on the various issues involved with the current testing regime,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT
RESOLVED, that the Rochester Teachers Association declares its opposition to the use of state- or federal-mandated standardized tests for the purposes of making grade promotion, graduation, or other high-stakes decisions regarding students or teachers, and

RESOLVED, that RTA supports the right of parents and guardians to choose to absent their children from any or all state- or federal-mandated testing, and supports the right of teachers to discuss freely with parents and guardians their rights and responsibilities with respect to such testing, all without any negative consequences from RCSD, and

RESOLVED, that RTA will, to the best of its ability, support and protect members and others who may suffer any negative consequences as a result of speaking about their views of such testing or about the rights and obligations of parents and guardians with respect to such testing, and

RESOLVED, that RTA calls upon the RCSD Board of Education to direct RCSD administration to provide parents and guardians, in a timely manner, with an explanation of the rationale, intended use, and costs associated with any state- or federal-mandated tests intended to be administered to students, and to provide an explanation, in a timely manner, of the steps parents and guardians would need to take should they choose to absent their children from such testing, and

RESOLVED, that RTA calls upon the RCSD Board of Education to make a determination as to whether such testing operates in the best interests of RCSD students, and, if they conclude that it does not, to give serious consideration to deciding not to administer any or all such tests, in consultation and alliance with other districts throughout Monroe County and the State of New York, and

RESOLVED, that RTA declares its support for the professional freedom of teachers to design, administer, score and use such testing as they deem necessary or appropriate for students in their classes, in their sole professional judgment, and

RESOLVED, that RTA appoint an Ad Hoc Committee to develop proposals for new, research-based, educationally sound measures to be used for accountability purposes, that will support, rather than undermine, the RCSD’s educational mission, and that such committee shall be free to work independently or in collaboration with RCSD to such ends, and

RESOLVED, that RTA, through its officers and staff, communicate these resolutions to anyone to whom they deem it fit and proper.

Adopted unanimously on March 17, 2015 by RTA Representative Assembly

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