Last Wednesday, my 7th graders took their Reading STAAR: sitting in silent rows for 4 hours, bubbling in their scantrons, going to the bathroom one at a time, and taking 10 minutes for a silent snack break. When everyone was finished, no one was allowed to do anything but read or sleep. Sounds like a day well spent, right? — at least according to some of the critics of the Texas legislature's moves to reduce the amount of required testing. Unfortunately for them, research, citizens, legislators, and education experts prove time and time again that they're wrong, and that it's necessary to rethink our state's evaluation system.
Texas is known for being friendly to "the test." In 2011, Texas cut its education funding by $5.4 billion, while extending a contract to Pearson for $488 million in order to write the STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) — a brand-new test. This wasn't exactly news. Texas currently spends more money on testing than any other state. Even California, with 1 million more students enrolled in grades 3-8 than Texas, spends only $53 million compared to Texas's $90 million annually. Additionally, the number of tests a Texas student has to pass in order to graduate high school is the highest in the nation. Unfortunately, that spending hasn't seemed to help much. Texas outspends and out-tests every other state, but it does not out-achieve. More testing does not mean higher test scores.
Parents, teachers, and students have been rallying for more authentic assessment all over the country. The Seattle teachers test boycott, the Chicago Teachers Union strike, and student walkouts in Portland, Newark, and Chicago are only a few examples. In Texas, the parent opt-out movement is gaining steam. The Texas Parents Opt-Out Facebook page has over 2,500 likes; the Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (otherwise known as "Moms Against Drunk Testing") has nearly 4,000. These groups have been integral in actions such as the Save Texas Schools rally in March and are followed by national education reform leaders such as Diane Ravitch and John Kuhn.
Recently, elected officials have started to take note of these outcries. Eighty six percent of school boards in Texas have signed onto an anti-testing resolution, begging the state legislature to reduce the pressure on their districts. And multiple bills have been introduced in both the Texas House and the Texas Senate to reduce the number of tests administered and required each year. As of January, nine bills in the Texas House or Senate related to either reducing the number of tests, removing the 15% rule (which states that a students End of Course exam will count for 15% of their grade), and modifying testing requirements for English Language Learners and students with certain learning disabilities. The most recent success for this brand of education reform comes in HB5, which recently passed the Texas House. This bill would change the high school requirements from 4 years each of English, Math, Science, and Social studies to 3, as well as reducing the number of high-stakes test from 15 to 5. Clearly, support is growing for a better evaluation system, one that offers students and campuses more flexibility, instead of continuing to rely on the same failed policies of accountability.
Research continues to prove that standardized tests have few benefits, adverse effects on student learning, and much racial bias. Texas needs to move in the right direction on the issue of standardized testing — or risk losing any gains we have made.