The more we look at the Texas Education Agency’s online survey inviting comment on how the state should implement new testing flexibility offered by federal law, the less satisfied we are that the survey will produce anything meaningful. Let us explain and then recommend something you can do about it.
First, the background: The new federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act—dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—allows states the freedom to make a sharp turn away from the test-and-punish model of accountability promoted by the discredited No Child Left Behind Act. But in many states educators are finding state policy leaders reluctant to use their newfound freedom to develop alternative assessments and accountability measures. And Texas appears to be no exception.
The brief, online survey with nine questions posted by TEA does not really allow you to consider a major overhaul of the existing test-driven accountability system. It provides too little context for the questions to have much meaning, and questions require rankings of apples and oranges.
For example, a question asks what Texas should adopt as a measure of school quality in addition to standardized tests, with a grab-bag menu of options including the arts, career and technical education, educator engagement, student engagement, graduation rates (which already are reported anyway), advanced courses, school climate, and attendance. Similarly, in a question on “preparing students for future success,” respondents are asked to choose from among critical thinking, work experience, advanced courses, and interpersonal skills—and rank-order your top three of those. The whole survey asks respondents to make false either/or choices without sufficient context or background.
So here’s what we recommend: Answer the final, open-ended question asking for “additional input” with the following:
This survey is an inadequate instrument for meaningful engagement with parents, educators, and community stakeholders to discuss how Texas should take advantage of the opportunity under ESSA to move away from the current overemphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and its distorting effects on classroom instruction. Please emulate the State Board of Education and convene community conversations around the state to hold meaningful dialogues on the next generation of assessments and accountability for Texas. We need real conversations about a real Texas vision for education, what did not work under NCLB, and what has to change. Please enlist the help of parents and educators in groups like Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment and Texas AFT in this endeavor. A better state plan for implementing ESSA will be the result.
Be sure to submit your response to the survey by the 5 p.m. deadline on Friday, November 18.