Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Texas Education Back-Step

From the state that gave the United States the worst idea in school reform since Joe Clark prowled the halls of East Side High School in Paterson, NJ, Texas, comes this remarkable admission: High stakes testing has taken over the curriculum to the point where the Lone Star State is now rolling back the number of assessments students must take every year. Not only that, the reform that Bush wrought is proving that a laser-like focus on college prep curricula won't hit every child.

Here's the story, and here are some stunning facts:
The Texas House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill this month that would reduce the number of exams students must pass to earn a high school diploma to 5, from 15.  
Fifteen tests just to pass high school? Let's talk about out-of-control standardized assessments. Let's further talk about the Texas requirement that all students take four years of English, science, social studies and math, including an advanced algebra class, because all students must be college-ready and matriculate at an institution of higher learning. Never mind students who are not proficient academic learners or who would benefit from a vocational curriculum. It's vitally important for all students to get a foundation in the liberal arts, but young people also need exposure to non-academic courses and classes that do not rely on a test.

From an educational policy perspective, there is something to like in the fact that Texas is considering cutting back on testing. From the article:
Here in Texas, the backlash has been fiercest among parents and educators who believe testing has become excessive, particularly after a period when the state cut its budget for education. 

On a recent afternoon, Joanne Salazar pulled out a copy of a testing calendar for the school in Austin where her daughter is a sophomore. “Of the last 12 weeks of school, 9 are impacted by testing,” Ms. Salazar said. “It has really started to control the schedule.”
Too many tests taking too much time out of the school year? Where have I heard that before?

Is there opposition to the proposed changes? Yes, and they require some analysis. Consider:
But at a time when about half of the students who enroll in community colleges in Texas require remedial math classes, Michael L. Williams, the state’s commissioner of education, called the proposed changes “an unfortunate retreat.” 

“What gets tested gets taught,” Mr. Williams said. “What we treasure, we measure.” 
First of all, the new standards, which were adopted in 2007, do not seem to have helped a large segment of Texas schoolchildren who enroll in community college. Second, it's not just that what gets tested gets taught; it's that Texas only teaches what's on the test. And I can assure you that the Texas curriculum has narrowed considerably, since a teacher can't possibly cover an enriching curriculum with the knowledge that very little will get taught during the last 12 weeks of school.

Hey, New Jersey, this is your future, and it's starting in September. The states that adopted tests early are figuring out that they don't contribute to a quality education, and they're pulling back. What are we doing? Governor Christie has us jumping into the pool as the water is being emptied. This can't, and won't, end well.

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