Day: October 7, 2015

If only there were a STAAR test for legislators

 

I have long been convinced that many elected officials, including members of the legislative majority, use the student and school “accountability” system as an excuse to under-fund public education. These are the same people who also like to say that “throwing money” at education doesn’t improve student performance.

The truth is Texas government has never “thrown” money at education. Quite the contrary. You don’t throw money at education by cutting $5.4 billion from public school budgets, as the legislative majority did four years ago. And, you don’t throw money at education if you consistently rank, as Texas does, in the lower tier among the states in per-student funding.

What the Legislature does throw at school children, though, beginning with third-graders, is a series of standardized tests supposedly designed to hold students and their teachers “accountable” for the insufficient tax dollars that are spent on them.

In truth the STAAR tests – the latest and most difficult generation of a series of such exams – measure little more than a child’s ability to take a test. The whole experience is wasteful and stressful, for students, parents and educators alike. Countless hours of classroom time that could be spent teaching critical thinking skills and other important educational issues are frittered away on teaching kids how to take and pass the next STAAR or a practice benchmark. But don’t blame the teachers. They are teaching to the test because their school rankings and maybe their jobs depend on the STAAR scores.

Many children start worrying about the STAAR test as early as second grade, a year and a half before they will have to take their first one. This is counterproductive to the extreme, tarnishing and perhaps even destroying the joy of learning that is so crucial to a child’s education. TSTA President Noel Candelaria noted in a television interview this week that such stress made his daughter dread the start of third grade this year.

Members of the legislative majority claim they are simply holding those third-graders and their teachers “accountable.”

Bunk. They are using their definition of “accountability” as an excuse to continue to shortchange public education and school children. And now that the passing standard on the next round of STAAR tests is being raised, children as young as 8 and 9 will feel even more stress.

Accountability should start at the top, with the Legislature, but the legislative majority refuses to acknowledge its responsibilities to school children and educators. Texas spends $2,400 less per public school student than the national average, yet the legislative majority left billions of tax dollars in the bank. And, led by the governor, the state continues to fight a court order finding the school funding system inadequate, unfair and unconstitutional.

While state policymakers drag their feet, thousands of Texas school children will remain in overcrowded, under-equipped classrooms, and teachers will continue to struggle to provide the individual attention that many children need.

Yet, if STAAR scores drop this year, these same legislators will act surprised and continue pontificating about “accountability” – not theirs, the kids.

If only there were a STAAR test for legislators. The closest thing we have are elections, and most of these lawmakers will be on the ballot next year. Virtually all will claim to be “friends” of education, but many of them aren’t. They would rather test kids, continue to under-fund classrooms, declare the public schools a “failure” and propose vouchers and other privatization schemes. So, do some research before you vote.

TSTA will be endorsing genuine, pro-education legislative candidates in both party primaries.