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SB 3 | Accountability & Testing

A+ Testifies Before TX Senate Education Committee

February 10, 2013

Second Oral Testimony Delivered to the Texas Senate Education Committee on Senate Bill 3, February 19, 2013

By Scott Van Beck Ed.D., Executive Director, Houston A+ Challenge

“I’d like to say a few words today about rigor, and then talk about testing.  21.9 is a number we know in Houston well.  As most of the Senators are aware, this number refers to the statewide 8th graders who received a certification or a two-year or four-year degree within an eleven year span.  The number is worse for Hispanics – around 8 percent.

“Texans know we need to keep rigor high, but rigor isn’t defined by quantity of tests.  Real rigor is created through quality of curriculum, instructional, and assessment design.

“I learned in my undergraduate days that the purpose of testing was to provide feedback for instruction.  It seems to me that the State of Texas needs to decide what they want to know about their kids and then set assessments to measure exactly that.  Today I’d like to talk about skills-based testing compared to content-based testing.  When the state introduced the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, it was the hope that both knowledge and skills would receive the same amount of attention by the test-makers.

“But it seems, still today, that the state assessments are more about demonstrating knowledge more than demonstrating skills.  It seems that we are in some sort of content competition when deciding what curriculum should be tested in the End of Course assessments.  With respect to Senator Duncan, and his questioning earlier about the need to start over with this testing dilemma, I would urge the legislature to think more about testing skills than testing content.

“The skills that need testing, in my opinion, are a student’s ability to read, write and problem-solve, while using content as a context for building these skills.  It seems like this is what Common Core is doing in other parts of the country, especially when it comes to assessment practices, and, as Senator Duncan suggested, the SAT or ACT portfolio might meet these needs.

“The courses presently available to test reading, writing, and problem-solving would probably be the English and mathematic offerings found in the state’s course catalog, beginning with English I and Algebra I.  If the state wanted to become really creative, think about shelving the content tests for three exams annually that would test reading, writing,, and problem-solving skills.

“Think about two days in May (after the schedule AP test) when Texas juniors would take a reading test, which asked questions about science and social studies content, in the morning and a writing test (again asking the student to access science and social studies knowledge) in the afternoon.

“The next day Texas juniors would take a problem-solving test, which emphasized humanities curriculum, in the morning and a fourth test in the afternoon that assessed math and science.  You could add in a 9th grade and 10th grade schedule, if the state wanted to introduce a growth measure for these types of exams.

“If this is too much of a stretch, go ahead and use English 1 and English 3, and Algebra 1 and Algebra 2, which would also give you an opportunity to measure student learning growth over three years.

“Let’s talk a moment about Algebra 2.  I haven’t heard a lot of discussion about this course today, but, if you believe what the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Education Agency said after the passage of House Bill 3 a few years ago, this course, along with English 3, were the best course predictors of college and career readiness.  Were we told wrong back then?  I don’t think so.

“It would seem to me that, even if we didn’t want to include Algebra 2 as an accountability measure for the student, school, or district, we would still want to test every kid in that course to measure our college and career readiness.  If the student fails Algebra 2, then the student has a full year to earn a certification endorsement from a business or trade association, while still having the opportunity to pass Algebra 2 before graduation.  This seems to be the beauty of Senate Bill 3, giving students real opportunity and flexibility to earn a high school diploma that either has a trade certificate, or military acceptance, or a two-year or a four-year college entry associated with the parchment.

“What does the state need to know about the Texas students in Pre-K-12 right now?  Once we figure this out, the plan becomes easier.  As always Houston A+ Challenge stands ready to assist this committee any way we can.

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