Too much test­ing and not enough learn­ing

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - Com. face­­man let­ters@states­man. Ratliff, R-mount Pleas­ant, was first elected to the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion in 2010. Wil­liam J. (Joe) Mccreight, MD jm­c­ Austin Jon Hal­ter Round Rock

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sim­ply, high-stakes test­ing is suck­ing the in­di­vid­u­al­ity and cre­ativ­ity out of class­rooms all across the state. How? Let me give you a few ex­am­ples.

The prob­lem starts at the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. Our Texas Es­sen­tial Knowl­edge and Skills cur­ricu­lum stan­dards are too long and too con­vo­luted. How is this re­lated to test­ing? Longer cur­ricu­lum stan­dards mean less time for teach­ers to en­sure stu­dents are mas­ter­ing con­tent in­stead of skim­ming across the grasstops. This leads to fail­ure on the state tests and re­me­di­a­tion when stu­dents ar­rive at col­lege.

The prob­lem is ex­ac­er­bated when the Texas Leg­is­la­ture makes the state’s tests count for 15 per­cent of the stu­dent’s lo­cal grade.

At the lo­cal level, when test days roll around, cam­puses go into “lock­down” mode and the en­tire build­ing is trans­formed into a state-man­dated test­ing fac­tory. No bells ring­ing, stu­dents have to be com­pletely quiet in the halls so they don’t dis­rupt those stu­dents tak­ing the state’s test, schools that have mul­ti­ple floors will sep­a­rate test­ing kids from non­test­ing kids by floor. Lunch sched­ules are changed. Teach­ers are asked to “leave their of­fice” and work from an­other class­room to ac­com­mo­date this change. School bill­boards ask for prayers and sup­port from the com­mu­nity. Par­ents are asked to send lemon drops or other things to “help” their kids per­form well on the test.

Again, it af­fects more than just those stu­dents who are tak­ing the test.

My wife teaches Span­ish I. Her classes typ­i­cally have a mix of fresh­men, sopho­mores and the oc­ca­sional ju­nior. When test days roll around, her classes get ripped apart while some of her stu­dents are out test­ing. When the fresh­men are test­ing, should she keep mov­ing for­ward with the other stu­dents and leave the fresh­men be­hind? This is as­sum­ing that she hasn’t been asked to get a sub­sti­tute to cover her class while she helps mon­i­tor those stu­dents be­ing tested or helps a dis­abled stu­dent with a mod­i­fied or al­ter­nate TAKS or STAAR test. What about the in­di­vid­ual stu­dent? The best vi­su­als I can think of are two real-life sto­ries. Last year my wife was mon­i­tor­ing a state test ad­min­is­tra-

To join the con­ver­sa­tion, go to tion when she no­ticed a stu­dent writ­ing with one hand while hold­ing and rub­bing his rosary beads with the other.

An­other story in­volves a stu­dent whose nose be­gins to bleed when the test starts be­cause of the in­creased stress.

Th­ese ex­am­ples shed some light on the un­healthy level of stress and em­pha­sis placed on th­ese tests.

Keep in mind, when you hear peo­ple talk about the num­ber of test days in our schools, they only talk about those stu­dents who are ac­tu­ally tak­ing the test. Those days don’t take into ac­count the other im­pacts I’ve listed above. In other words, es­ti­mates of “test­ing days” don’t pro­vide an ac­cu­rate or com­plete pic­ture.

Now, let’s take a step back for a sec­ond.

Is the test really the prob­lem? Per­son­ally, I don’t think so.

Test­ing is a form of accountability and mea­sure­ment, and de­spite what the Texas As­so­ci­a­tion of Busi­ness wants you to be­lieve, par­ents are not against test­ing or accountability. What par­ents are against are the stakes rid­ing on the out­come of those tests. What’s the so­lu­tion to this sit­u­a­tion?

We need the Leg­is­la­ture to re­peal the 15 per­cent grade re­quire­ment.

We need the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion to re­duce the length of the cur­ricu­lum stan­dards as they come up for re­newal.

We need an accountability sys­tem that con­tains el­e­ments that have noth­ing to do with stan­dard­ized tests. Grad­u­a­tion rates, Univer­sity In­ter­scholas­tic League par­tic­i­pa­tion, Na­tional Merit Schol­ars, CTE par­tic­i­pa­tion, and dual credit en­roll­ment are just a few sug­ges­tions. We also need to stop grad­ing cam­puses and dis­tricts on their low­est per­form­ing sub-group. I know Com­mis­sioner Michael Wil­liams and the ed­u­ca­tion agency are work­ing on this and they are headed in the right di­rec­tion. I just hope they go far enough to make mean­ing­ful change.

We sim­ply have too many state­man­dated tests. Mas­sachusetts, the envy of all pub­lic schools sys­tems in the United States, has three state-man­dated tests. Fin­land, which is the envy of all pub­lic school sys­tems in the world, has one. That’s right, one.

re­minds me of an old say­ing: “The cow doesn’t get heav­ier just be­cause you weigh it more.”

time to put the high-stakes test­ing regime out to pas­ture. con­firmed that ad­dic­tion is a ge­net­i­cally in­flu­enced chronic disease of brain re­ward cir­cuitry. Th­ese neu­ral path­ways have evolved to en­sure sur­vival, thus the ad­dict is com­pelled to seek out his drug of choice in the same way a starv­ing per­son will re­sort to the most des­per­ate mea­sures to ob­tain food. Threats and pun­ish­ment are not ef­fec­tive. There is am­ple re­search in­di­cat­ing that ad­dic­tion treat­ment is at least as ef­fec­tive as treat­ment for other chronic dis­eases like di­a­betes and asthma. The gov­er­nor’s fo­cus should be on mak­ing treat­ment avail­able to ev­ery­one who needs it. would-be Texas se­ces­sion­ists: A statewide ref­er­en­dum should be held with the re­quire­ment that the bal­lot not be se­cret. If the se­ces­sion­ists win, the losers have the op­tion of stay­ing in Texas or mov­ing to an­other state. If the se­ces­sion­ists lose, they must move to an­other coun­try, as­sum­ing they can find one that will ac­cept them.

Al­ways a cri­sis

Re: Dec. 5 ar­ti­cle, “State grap­ples with grim prospect of ‘cliff’”

I re­mem­ber so well my re­lief when Nov. 6 passed. The news me­dia had blasted my mind with elec­tion rhetoric at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity, over and over again. Now, I con­fess, ev­ery time I hear/read the term

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