STAAR testing is about to get worse for kids


Parents who have reached the breaking point over the state’s abusive, counterproductive STAAR testing regime had better brace themselves. The legislative majority has found a way to make the STAAR test even more stressful for their kids.

Beginning with the next school year (2017-18), the state’s school accountability system will be changed to assign campuses an A-through-F letter grade, with STAAR test scores being a major factor in determining what letter a school gets.

The legislative majority enacted this law during the 2015 legislative session. It was a transparent effort to heap more blame on students and educators for struggling schools that the same legislators have refused to adequately and fairly fund. These lawmakers would rather blame third-graders for failure than own up to their own responsbilities.

You may recall that while they were shortchanging the school kids, they were enacting a significant cut in business taxes, an important source of education revenue.

Teachers, superintendents, school board members and other educators are fighting back against the new grading system because we recognize it for what it is – an effort to stigmatize kids and their educators, not improve their schools.

Unless the law is repealed or changed, most of the schools getting Fs likely will be in low-income districts and neighborhoods where students fare worse on STAAR scores. Slapping Fs on their schools will do nothing to change that. If members of the legislative majority really want to help these children, they would draft an adequate and fair school funding system, giving all kids reasonable class sizes, upgraded equipment and instructional materials and other resources important to classroom success.

Instead, the state now funds only about 43 percent of the Foundation School Program, while local taxpayers make up the rest, with much of the property tax money raised locally being spent on other school districts and on non-educational programs that help the legislature balance the state budget.

Many low-income children who are struggling in school or dropping out also suffer from inadequate health care and nutrition, issues that make it difficult for them to learn and needs that historically have been under-funded in Texas.

A self-styled education “reform” group, some of whose leaders were early champions of the STAAR testing insanity, recently issued a statement accusing superintendents who have been pushing back against the A-F system of “choosing fear over progress.”

Educators are all for progress. They have devoted their careers to it. But these superintendents and their teachers fear – with justification – that the new grading system will do nothing to promote that progress for their students. If anything, it will be counterproductive, much as most education “reformers” are.



Campus miracle workers can do only so much


During the new school year, thousands of teachers across Texas once again will prove themselves to be miracle workers, of sorts, as they help students not only tackle their studies but also cope with a number of issues and distractions originating outside the classroom.

But even miracle workers have their limits, as the Houston Chronicle editorial, linked below, accurately points out.

Public schools and the people who work in them cannot “fix” deep-rooted, intergenerational poverty that continues to haunt tens of thousands of children in Texas. State leaders have failed them for years and continue to fail them with an inadequate safety net of health care and social services. These same state leaders – who also refuse to pay for an adequate and equitable school funding system — pass the buck to educators and then wring their hands when the same kids, year after year, continue to under-perform on standardized tests.

The editorial cited the case of Kashmere High School in Houston, which has been rated “improvement required” on the state’s accountability system for seven years.

Here’s why. Some 48 of adults in the community served by the school don’t have a high school diploma, and fewer than 7 percent have a college degree. Fifty-three percent of adults make less than $25,000 a year, the community has no Head Start programs and it lacks sufficient health care providers.

As the Chronicle wrote: “No matter what hours Kashmere’s principals, teachers and administrators put in, no matter how well they use data, no matter their dedication, school personnel cannot fix intergenerational poverty. They can’t amass the resources to meet these students’ basic needs or those of their families, whose engagement is vital to student success. Yet until students have full stomachs, a roof over their heads and a safe environment, it’s at best challenging for students to learn.”

A community school model in the Kashmere feeder pattern is attempting to coordinate social services and other community resources that the students and their families need. This is a good step, but the legislative majority also needs to provide more resources.

It doesn’t take a genius to predict that once the state implements it’s new, A-F grading system for campuses next year, Kashmere will get an “F.” And so will hundreds of other campuses with classrooms full of improverished children.

That is a stigma that will do absolutely nothing to help these kids. But it was much easier for the legislative majority to insult low-income children and their educators with this law than it was to begin to realistically address the challenges that these children and their teachers face.



What about STAAR doesn’t the education commissioner understand?


In published comments this week, state Education Commissioner Mike Morath seemed confused about the STAAR testing regime and its negative impact on students. Either that, or he was talking out of both sides of his mouth.

In a visit to Abilene this week, Morath promoted his T-TESS teacher evaluation system, which is to be partly based on STAAR scores, raising the stakes on standardized testing as parental and educator opposition to high-stakes testing is growing. T-TESS is a punitive evaluation system that TSTA and other public education advocates have gone to court to try to stop.

Interestingly, in the same visit, Morath either contradicted himself about STAAR, or indicated he doesn’t really understand how bad the testing regime has become for students.

According to the Abilene Reporter News, at the end of a story linked below, Morath also said: You cannot allow assessments to become debilitating. You can’t allow them to become a point of stress, and you certainly cannot tell a child your life depends on an assessment.”

Didn’t he just describe STAAR?

Morath added, “It’s important to have a balanced view on what they (assessments) can and cannot do for us.”

He said the state must not lose sight of its goal to educate students beyond just a test. I agree, but when is state policy going to free educators to start doing that? And why did Morath add testing to the teacher evaluation system?




Another detour by education “reformers”


The Senate Education Committee heard testimony this week on what could become another detour from the main challenge facing public education in Texas – adequate and equitable funding for all school children.

This committee charge, handed down by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, calls for a “comprehensive performance review” of all of Texas’ public schools and a study of “performance-based funding mechanisms that allocate dollars based upon achievement versus attendance.”

Would-be vendors eager for a share of tax dollars for assisting in such a study already are lining up, I am sure. It was interesting, though, that the first two school performance “experts” to testify before the panel yesterday had different opinions on which school districts should be on the high performance list and apparently were measuring student performance differently.

If the Legislature persists in ordering such a study, the result could be even higher stakes for STAAR testing, even though a large number of educators and parents want lawmakers to abolish or heavily curtail standardized testing, not enhance it.

The study also may lead to proposals to reward school districts with financial incentives for being more “efficient” in churning out high test scores or producing higher graduation rates. But if lawmakers don’t add more money to the system, that would worsen the financial plight of districts with limited tax bases and high-needs and low-performing students who require more – not less – resources.

Instead of tinkering with performance-based funding, the first thing the Legislature needs to do next session is draft a new school funding plan that provides adequate funding for all of Texas’ 5.2 million public school children.

If they really want to improve the educational climate in Texas, lawmakers also will repeal or sharply cut back on standardized testing, except as a diagnostic tool, and will beat back attempts to pass vouchers and other school privatization schemes being proposed under the fiction of “school or parental choice.”

Some legislators, however, are easily diverted by just about any fad or privatization gimmick that ignores the real needs of educators and their students.