TEA portal designed to give parents and educators tools for STAAR results, but Texas AFT president reminds us to look at the bigger picture

The Texas Education Agency encourages educators to have a look at what parents see when they log on to the TEA portal giving parents access to student, campus, and district test results. We encourage you to take TEA up on the invitation. The site offers links to a series of pages and videos offering more detail on how to use the system and interpret results.

STAARresultsBut also be sure to take a look at the recent El Paso Times column by Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro counseling against the overuse and misuse of state testing data as the measure of learning and teaching in our schools:

In a recent column in the El Paso Times, Manny Soto Jr. bemoans the move in Texas over the last several years to require fewer standardized tests for public school students and claims our state is a laggard when it comes to accountability.

Soto mistakenly equates the number of tests students are forced to take and pass with school accountability. He is out of step with the growing chorus of teachers, parents, business people, higher education and community leaders as well as elected officials who are challenging the overuse and misuse of standardized tests.

Last year, an online survey on testing and accountability by Texas State Board of Education Chair Donna Bahorich, a Houston Republican, drew responses from over 27,000 Texans. Their take on the state’s current testing regime was overwhelmingly negative.

Eighty percent of respondents said that students should not be barred from graduation or grade level advancement based solely on standardized test results. A significant majority (63 percent) supported scrapping the state’s STAAR test in favor a national test like the SAT or Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Over 90 percent criticized the current tests for containing developmentally inappropriate questions and being used inappropriately for evaluating students with disabilities.

The state Legislature has paid attention to the State Board of Education and groups like Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment that have called for limited, valid use of standardized tests for the purpose of guiding instruction in the classroom, not punishing students, teachers or schools.

Those of us who teach and work in schools have seen the negative externalities associated with an overemphasis on standardized testing: children being drilled to pass multiple choice exams; high performing students and severely struggling students ignored; narrowing of the curriculum to teach only “tested topics;” a de-emphasis of reading entire books, the study of art, music, history and other subjects that are not tested; and here in El Paso, a cheating scandal to manipulate testing data that brought down the El Paso Independent School District superintendent and elected board of trustees and put the school district under state control.

We have seen other extreme problems caused by the misuse of standardized testing, including a scheme to pay teachers in Houston based on a black-box system that did not allow teachers to see the methodology used for their evaluations and provided no feedback regarding how to improve their instruction.

A federal judge ruled this year, in a suit brought against the district by the Houston Federation of Teachers, that “when a public agency adopts a policy of making high stakes employment decisions based on secret algorithms incompatible with minimum due process, the proper remedy is to overturn the policy.”

Texas is not alone in reevaluating the overuse of multiple choice tests. In 2015, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, replacing the No Child Left Behind law. While the new federal law requires testing in math and reading at key grade levels, it leaves to states the discretion to determine how best to use the testing data.

States across the country are redesigning their accountability systems to focus on college readiness, graduation rates (Texas leads the nation at 89 percent), early college start (EPISD, El Paso Community College and UTEP have a model program) and a broader set of skills and competencies that students must possess to succeed in higher education and the workforce.

College and career are the tests our students must be ready for, not just filling in the bubbles.

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