Politicians, not educators, have made testing a “complex” issue


After the study commission with the overly long name punted on the issue of STAAR and standardized testing, some of its members apparently felt the need to offer excuses for ignoring the growing, anti-standardized testing sentiment among educators and parents.

Pauline Dow, the chief instructional officer for North East ISD in San Antonio, was quoted in The Texas Tribune as saying that testing and measuring student achievement is a “complex issue and that we have to think about it in that way.”

Politicians, not educators, have made testing a “complex issue.” And I mean the politicians – the legislative majority and recent Texas governors – who have spent more energy imposing punitive, high-stakes tests on third-graders than they have on providing the resources that all students and educators need for real classroom success.

Educators know the importance of testing in measuring student progress and, just as importantly, in diagnosing a student’s strengths and weaknesses and planning how to address them.

Instead of addressing educators’ and parents’ concerns, the commission issued a report full of bureaucratic language that doesn’t really address the damage that the standardized testing regime has inflicted on Texas classrooms for more than a generation now. In fact, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, the retiring chairman of the House Public Education Committee, warned its potential interpretation by the Legislature could result in an expansion of standardized testing.

The Legislature, which convenes in January, ultimately will decide the future of testing in Texas. But if parents and educators don’t make it clear – loudly and often – to their legislators that high-stakes, standardized testing has to go, the legislative majority isn’t likely to make meaningful changes.


Hillary Clinton vows to rein in testing


If Hillary Clinton is elected president, she will part company with her two predecessors – George W. Bush and Barack Obama – and reduce the role of standardized testing in public schools.

In an address to the National Education Association’s annual convention today, Clinton said testing should be restored to its “original purpose” and that is as a diagnostic tool to help teachers and parents see how their kids are doing and where they need addtitional work for improvement.

“When you’re forced to teach to a test, our children miss out on some of the most valuable lessons and experiences they can gain in the classroom,” she said.

Over-testing, she added, hurts low-income children the most because the poorest schools are forced to cut back on art, music and other electives essential to a full educational experience, opportunities to which students in wealthier neighborhoods have more ready access.

“This is a form of inequality, and we are not going to stand for it,” Clinton said.

Clinton also called for universal pre-K, higher pay for educators and giving educators a break on student loans. She vowed to work to improve public schools, not privatize them, and to actually listen to educators.

In other words, her view of education is the opposite of what has been practiced by the political majority in Austin for the past several years.



Fed up with STAAR? This is what to do about it


I keep noticing a lot of parental and educator anger over STAAR, and all of it is justified. But lost scores and other problems created by the testing vendor, ETS, are only symptoms of a deeper problem, and venting against the vendor on Facebook and Twitter won’t accomplish much without going to the source of the problem – the elected officials who still support over-testing instead of real education.

Only the Legislature can rein in high-stakes, high-stress standardized tests, and the next opportunity will be the session convening in January.

A state commission that has been studying problems with STAAR – the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability – isn’t likely to go so far as to recommend that STAAR be scrapped. So, it is important that legislators hear directly from parents, educators and others demanding significant change.

If you do not know who your state representative and state senator is, click on this link and fill in your address to find out who they are and how to contact them:


Contact their offices early and often. Be polite but tell them you want STAAR to go away and insist on a definitive answer.

And remember their names and how they answered – or didn’t – when Election Day rolls around in November. All of the state representative seats and about half of the Senate seats will be on the ballot this year.

Had it up to here with STAAR? Take your complaints to the source of the problem — and keep taking them there.





Think about STAAR the next time you vote


Attorney General Ken Paxton’s attempt to win dismissal of a lawsuit brought by parents over STAAR testing is disappointing, but not really surprising. It’s part of Paxton’s pattern of opposing school kids, their parents and educators.

As a legislator in 2011, Paxton voted for $5.4 billion in school budget cuts. More recently, as attorney general, he defended in court the state’s inadequate school finance system, which the Texas Supreme Court recently upheld. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t bet money against the Supreme Court eventually throwing out the STAAR suit as well.

Educators, parents and students are continuing to feel the consequences of recent elections. In Paxton’s case, that’s the 2014 election, in which he was a poorly qualified candidate swept into office by heavy, straight-ticket Republican voting. Now, is a poorly qualified attorney general, continuing to under-cut public education.

Paxton also is under indictment and awaiting trial on securities fraud charges. Whatever happens to his criminal case, he needs to go away but isn’t in a big hurry to do so. For the record, TSTA supported attorney Sam Houston, Paxton’s opponent, in the 2014 general election because we knew Paxton was bad news and Houston valued the importance of public schools.

State Education Commissioner Mike Morath also is trying to get the STAAR lawsuit dismissed. He was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, who also prefers testing to adequate school funding and was promoted to higher office by the same voters and on the same day that Paxton was.

Parents have a right to sue over bad policy decisions and to get angry when the Texas Supreme Court says it’s OK for state leaders to continue to shortchange their children’s classrooms. But the best way to protect against bad educational policy is on Election Day, and parents, as well as educators, have missed many recent opportunities.