A+ Testifies Before TX Senate Education Committee
October 31, 2012
Written Testimony Delivered to the Texas Senate Education Committee Interim Charge Hearing on Accountability, October 30, 2012 By Scott Van Beck Ed.D., Executive Director, Houston A+ Challenge
“I would like to start this afternoon by thanking Senator Van de Putte for her earlier comment on the importance of linking practice to policy, regarding public education. The Senator is absolutely correct when she says that certain practices inside of schools and school districts are sending clear signals to state and district policy-makers. Houston A+ Challenge, a non-profit committed to improving public schools for Houston’s youth, follows the Senator’s advice by working in middle schools on college readiness and public school districts on improving college access for their high school students. We feel that we are uniquely qualified to offer policy opinions based on our 15 years of research-based reform practice inside schools and with partner public school districts. Here are a few opinions regarding today’s topics accountability and assessment.
“The State of Texas needs to keep a testing system. With that stated, there needs to be a certain flexibility allowed districts – possibly on a pilot basis, at first – to adopt national assessments that rival the STAAR portfolio in rigor and outcomes. There are plenty of national assessments that can be correlated to a testing regimen like STAAR, and offer school districts as much instructional information than our current state assessment, if not more.
“As the Texas legislature studies the idea of moving away from an annual test, consider this caveat. An exempted child who receives instruction from a low-performing teacher for two straight years is seriously damaged, and, worse yet, the state, the school district, and the school will not know the extent of the damage since there will actually be two years of classroom instruction between test administrations (if you skip a year of testing). Even for those kids with high scale scores, it seems a large risk to everyone involved (especially the families of the children involved), if we make a mistake in not knowing their annual educational advancement by using valid and reliable tests.
“We need to work on the mechanics of STAAR testing. Representative Mark Strama’s recent op-ed was particularly informing to Houston A+ as we thought about necessary adjustments to the assessment process. Strama’s call to change the state testing calendar, in order to allow teachers to use the STAAR End-of-Course exam the final exam for the school district, makes sense.
“Finally, I want to offer a few suggestions about the number of End of Course exams administered by the state and a comment on the 15% rule.
“If we believe the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Education Agency, then the two courses that best predict college and career readiness are Algebra 2 and English 3. If these are the most important predictors for post-secondary success, then it makes sense to assess the math and English pathways that lead to those courses. For most Texas students, that would mean additional tests in Algebra 1, Geometry, English 1, and English 2. The number of tests administered over four years would decrease from 12 to 6. If the state wanted to add social studies or science assessments, then a possible way to do this would be to follow the lead of the College Board and their Advanced Placement testing. Students are allowed to test in their areas of strength most of the time. The state could require a graduation requirement of one End of Course exam in both social studies and science. The graduation diploma program might be employed to reward students who commit to more.
“The state might want to think about leaving the 15% rule to individual school districts to decide its future. It seems like the high-stakes testing described above is enough to keep the student’s attention on their coursework. The interest of the State of Texas is that our students learn the essentials. Let’s let the ISDs decide how a final exam grade fits into their grade point average policies.
“Thank you for your attention.”