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Texas State Board of Education Member Says There is TOO Much Testing…

December 12, 2012

Here is another article which is a positive sign (especially coming from such a Republican state) from a prominent person in the public education system who is opposed to the amount of testing that our students are subjected to.

As time goes by, and as parents learn just how much testing is happening, and just how much test prep is taking place in lieu of real investigative, exciting, learning we will see more and more article like this one below from Thomas Ratliff, a member of the State of Texas Board of Education.  Enjoy this article and enjoy the trend of seeing more and more articles like this recently.

By Thomas Ratliff

Quite simply, high-stakes testing is sucking the individuality and creativity out of classrooms all across the state. How? Let me give you a few examples.

The problem starts at the State Board of Education. Our Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum standards are too long and too convoluted. How is this related to testing? Longer curriculum standards mean less time for teachers to ensure students are mastering content instead of skimming across the grasstops. This leads to failure on the state tests and remediation when students arrive at college.

The problem is exacerbated when the Texas Legislature makes the state’s tests count for 15 percent of the student’s local grade.

At the local level, when test days roll around, campuses go into “lockdown” mode and the entire building is transformed into a state-mandated testing factory. No bells ringing, students have to be completely quiet in the halls so they don’t disrupt those students taking the state’s test, schools that have multiple floors will separate testing kids from nontesting kids by floor. Lunch schedules are changed. Teachers are asked to “leave their office” and work from another classroom to accommodate this change. School billboards ask for prayers and support from the community. Parents are asked to send lemon drops or other things to “help” their kids perform well on the test. Again, it affects more than just those students who are taking the test.

My wife teaches Spanish I. Her classes typically have a mix of freshmen, sophomores and the occasional junior. When test days roll around, her classes get ripped apart while some of her students are out testing. When the freshmen are testing, should she keep moving forward with the other students and leave the freshmen behind? This is assuming that she hasn’t been asked to get a substitute to cover her class while she helps monitor those students being tested or helps a disabled student with a modified or alternate TAKS or STAAR test.

What about the individual student?

The best visuals I can think of are two real-life stories. Last year my wife was monitoring a state test administration when she noticed a student writing with one hand while holding and rubbing his rosary beads with the other. Another story involves a student whose nose begins to bleed when the test starts because of the increased stress. Needless to say, these examples shed some light on the unhealthy level of stress and emphasis placed on these tests.

Keep in mind, when you hear people talk about the number of test days in our schools, they only talk about those students who are actually taking the test. Those days don’t take into account the other implications I’ve listed above. In other words, estimates of “testing days” don’t provide an accurate or complete picture of the total impact.

Now, let’s take a step back for a second.

Is the test really the problem? Personally, I don’t think so. Testing is a form of accountability and measurement, and despite what the Texas Association of Business wants you to believe, parents are not against testing or accountability. What parents are against are the stakes riding on the outcome of those tests.

What’s the solution to this situation?

•We need the Legislature to repeal the 15 percent grade requirement.

•We need the State Board of Education to reduce the length of the curriculum standards as they come up for renewal.

•We need an accountability system that contains elements that have nothing to do with standardized tests. Graduation rates, University Interscholastic League participation, National Merit Scholars, CTE participation, and dual credit enrollment are just a few suggestions. We also need to stop grading campuses and districts on their lowest performing sub-group. I know Commissioner Michael Williams and the education agency are working on this and they are headed in the right direction. I just hope they go far enough to make meaningful change.

•We simply have too many state-mandated tests. Massachusetts, the envy of all public schools systems in the United States, has three state-mandated tests. Finland, which is the envy of all public school systems in the world, has one. That’s right, one. This reminds me of an old saying: “The cow doesn’t get heavier just because you weigh it more.” So, I’d like to conclude with another farming analogy. It’s time to put the high-stakes testing regime out to pasture.

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