If you loosely based the generations of accountability in Texas on the testing regime, you could say that with the STAAR, Texas is in the midst of its third generation of accountability (Pre-NCLB TAAS being the first and Post-NCLB TAKS the second).
We know that the state currently spends nearly $100 million a year for Texas school exams and will have sent $1 billion to Pearson by 2015 according to recent media reports.
What do we have to show for this decades long gauntlet of testing? A recent report that I co-authored with Richard Reddick, a UT-Austin professor and Su Jin Jez, a Cal State- Sacramento professor, released by the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis (IUPRA) entitled Is Texas leading its peers and the nation?: A Decadal Analysis of Educational Data found that over the past decade Texas dropped 21 spots in 4th grade math, four spots in 4th grade reading, and eight spots in 8th grade reading. The only bright spot on the NAEP was that Texas improved its standing by the end of the decade in 8th grade math, moving from 22nd to 18th. On the SAT, Texas was ranked 44th and dropped 4 spots over the last decade. On the ACT Texas was ranked 33rd. Clearly the news isn’t so great.
Proponents of the current system often cherry-pick very specific (and even misinterpret) data and make it appear that testing has worked. The fact that they spin using this narrow approach is specious.
But if you ask educators and parents with students in Texas public schools rather than lobbyists, its very clear they are unhappy with the current system.
HB 5 proposed by Rep. Jimmie Aycock is “a starting point, a good one.”
Rep. Aycock himself has said “It is not a final work product that will go to the floor. I’m asking members to give suggestions of where they think it ought to wind up.”
HB 5 provisions focus mainly on graduation plans, assessment, and accountability.
HB 5 seeks to create a single foundation diploma. Several bills this Texas Legislative session are seeking to streamline the current tiered graduation system. Analyses by Choquette Hamilton, one of my former students, showed that African American and Latina/o students are less likely to be represented in the current Recommended/Distinguished graduation plans (about 10% less for African Americans). Coordinating Board data show that only 25% of minimum plan students attend college relative to about 80% of those receiving distinguished diplomas. Thus, it is clear that a single diploma with high standards is a gateway to college in Texas and elsewhere. Thus, eliminating the requirement to pass Algebra II and ELA III would likely not help the life success of students whether they be career or college bound. The Texas Center for Educational Policy in their brief on Texas SB 3 argued,
We applaud the move to begin eliminating the current multiple diploma tracks in statute and the shift towards establishing one college‐ready diploma. The act of establishing the Foundation Program holds great promise for moving the state away from a tiered system of student expectations.
HB 5 seeks to reduces overreliance on standardized testing to evaluate student performance by decreasing the number of end-of-course assessments from fifteen to five, eliminating cumulative score requirements, and eliminating the requirement that end-of-course assessments determine 15% of final grades. It also allows students to meet exit testing requirements by passing ELA II, Algebra I, biology and US History. It also offers more flexibility for defining college readiness by allowing satisfactory performance on Advanced Placement exams, SAT exams and the ACT to satisfy graduation requirements in lieu of end-of-course.
The flexibility should be helpful for African American and Latina/o students in the state on average are more likely to have lower scores than Whites and Asians regardless of the high-stakes exam. Reducing the number of exams, eliminating cumulative score requirements, grade weighting, and alternative assessments should theoretically provide students more chances to demonstrate their skill sets (depending on the thresholds that would be set by the commissioner). However, while there is a reduction in standardized testing in HB 5, it is still remains as the lynchpin of student outcomes.
A notable exception is for Special Education students in which the ARDs would be given more flexibility in determining whether the exit tests should be required for graduation.
I have argued since October 2012 for a Community-Based Accountability approach which emphasizes multiple measures and local control. The High Performance Coalition created by SB 1557 in 2011 has proposed adopting this approach and it’s a conversation that appears to be building momentum in the Texas Legislature. HB 5 has some community-based components and establishes a new rating system that allows local communities to engage in the accountability process by requiring districts to set goals and evaluate performance locally as a compliment to state ratings. The community-based measures of academic performance, financial performance and community and student engagement is a start, but I believe there are a variety of other measures such as school safety that communities care about. You can view these at http://bit.ly/CBAKF.
We need an accountability design in Texas (and elsewhere) that emphasizes local control yet focuses on a larger compliment of student outcomes in addition to tests— a Community-Based Accountability approach does that. HB 5 is a start.
See the full text of Texas House Bill 5 here.