Accountability, test­ing pay off for Texas schools

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - RALPH BARRERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN COMING MON­DAY

Ac­cord­ing

to the lat­est data from the U.S. De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, Texas has one of the high­est grad­u­a­tion rates for all stu­dents in the na­tion. As com­mis­sioner of ed­u­ca­tion, I rec­og­nize and ap­pre­ci­ate what this ac­com­plish­ment truly means.

In a state as large and as di­verse as any in the coun­try, Texas’ grad­u­a­tion rate of 86 per­cent, mak­ing the state a na­tional leader along with Iowa, Ver­mont and Wis­con­sin. The Lone Star State is first on na­tional grad­u­a­tion rates for white, Asian and African-Amer­i­can stu­dents. Our grad­u­a­tion rate is sec­ond in the na­tion for His­panic and eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents, as well as chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties. In fact, there are numer­ous other achieve­ments within the fed­eral Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment num­bers of which we, as a state, can be very proud.

This state-by-state com­par­i­son rep­re­sents the first time all states have used a uni­ver­sal mea­sure in tab­u­lat­ing grad­u­a­tion rates and con­firms what Texas educators have been say­ing for a long time. Our pub­lic schools are de­liv­er­ing a high-qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. Thanks to hard work from teach­ers, ad­min­is­tra­tors, stu­dents and par­ents, more Texas stu­dents are earn­ing a high school di­ploma than ever be­fore.

I firmly be­lieve the path our state chose to take more than a decade ago has brought us to this in­cred­i­ble point. The state’s school accountability sys­tem has helped shine a light on the is­sue of high school com­ple­tion and fo­cused greater at­ten­tion on rais­ing the state’s grad­u­a­tion rate.

Re­cently, there has been a sense of angst as we tran­si­tion to the more rig­or­ous State of Texas As­sess­ments of Aca­demic Readi­ness end-of­course ex­ams. Such shared test anx­i­ety has come ev­ery time our state has moved to a new test­ing pro­gram. To some ex­tent, it is ex­pected and un­der­stand­able. How­ever, it should by no means present a mis­guided op­por­tu­nity to stray from what has been a suc­cess­ful path.

It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber why the Texas Leg­is­la­ture sup­ported a shift to STAAR. The old Texas As­sess­ment of Knowl­edge and Skills test had reached the end of its cy­cle. Col­lege and ca­reer readi­ness stan­dards were be­ing put in place. There had to be a new mea­sure­ment tool to de­ter­mine how our stu­dents were per­form­ing on new cur­ricu­lum stan­dards.

Tex­ans should also keep in mind this is only the sec­ond year of im­ple­men­ta­tion for the new tests and will be the first year of im­ple­men­ta­tion for the new accountability sys­tem. The Texas Ed­u­ca­tion Agency is grad­u­ally phas­ing in the new pass­ing stan­dards to help re­duce the over­all im­pact to stu­dents, par­ents and teach­ers.

In ad­di­tion, I am ex­plor­ing op­tions for our agency that can help al­le­vi­ate some of the pres­sure. Among those steps, I am again al­low­ing school dis­tricts to de­fer im­ple­men­ta­tion of the 15 per­cent grad­ing re­quire­ment con­nected to STAAR. Staff mem­bers at the Texas Ed­u­ca­tion Agency are work­ing to sim­plify the cu­mu­la­tive scor­ing model for the end-of-course ex­ams to make it eas­ier to un­der­stand. I have reached out to su­per­in­ten­dents across the state for rec­om­men­da­tions about what can be done — within the con­text of im­prov­ing the struc­ture while main­tain­ing the in­tegrity of our accountability sys­tem for all stu­dents.

The STAAR end-of-course ex­ams do rep­re­sent a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in rigor. How­ever, ev­ery time we have raised the bar for our stu­dents in the class­room, they have met the chal­lenge. Now is not the time to aban­don a suc­cess­ful path. The de­ci­sion to in­crease rigor and com­mit to ed­u­cat­ing ev­ery child in ev­ery class­room in ev­ery school in ev­ery district across our great state is paying tremen­dous div­i­dends to­day and for our fu­ture — and our stu­dents hold the diplo­mas to prove it. State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion mem­berThomas Ratliff and accountability ad­vo­cate Sandy Kress dis­cuss the mer­its of stan­darized test­ing.

Texas, with an 86 per­cent grad­u­a­tion rate, is shift­ing to the more rig­or­ous As­sess­ments of Aca­demic Readi­ness ex­ams.

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