House Bills Would Curb State Testing Excesses, Delay Rollout of A-F Ratings

A batch of bills heard in the House Public Education Committee this week would make significant strides toward reining in the outsized role of standardized state testing in school accountability. The leading bill is HB 22 by committee chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), which would delay use of A-F ratings until August 2019, giving the Legislature another chance in the 2019 regular session to revise the law further after a couple more test runs in the meantime. HB 22 also would reduce the weight given to standardized tests in the ratings, expanding the range of factors considered as evidence of proficiency.  Schools would not receive a single summative grade but rather multiple grades on different aspects of performance in three domains:  student achievement, school progress, and school climate.

Texas AFT’s testimony praised HB 22 as a significant improvement over the status quo but one that needs further work or complementary legislation to do the full job of putting standardized testing back in its proper place.  The key ingredient missing from the mix thus far is a decoupling of standardized testing from state accountability sanctions, returning testing to a proper diagnostic role instead of misusing test scores as triggers for unwarranted punitive action, including school closure.

Other bills to scale back the role of state testing and promote better performance measures include two apiece by Reps. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston). Gonzalez in HB 988 and HB 989 would set up pilot programs for the use of portfolio assessments in lieu of standardized tests. VanDeaver’s HB 515 would limit the use of standardized tests to those subjects (reading, math, science) and grade levels for which federal law still mandates state testing. VanDeaver’s HB 3104 would authorize school districts to develop their own alternative assessment for measuring writing proficiency, specifically including portfolio assessments. Texas AFT supported all four bills in committee, and we are encouraged to see strong bipartisan support in the House for common-sense reform of the state’s excessive reliance on standardized state snapshot tests and formulaic writing exams.