Monday, June 20, 2016

Falling STAAR

"Messy STAAR season causes education commissioner to scrap 5th-, 8th-grade results." Can standardized testing in Texas schools fall any lower? That's a rhetorical question.

Standardized testing in Texas has a long history. It predates even the George W. Bush governorship in the 1990s. Standardized testing and accountability was given credit for narrowing the achievement gap between whites and minorities. The New York Times had good things to say about Texas in 1999 when Governor Bush was leveraging Texas's reputation in his own bid for the White House.

This has stemmed partly from a unique accountability system that predates Mr. Bush's tenure and requires all Texas schools to give an array of standardized tests and record the results for each subgroup -- white, black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged. The schools are judged on the performance of each group separately. Other states give tests but no other uses the performance of subgroups separately to determine success.

Standardized testing, supposedly proven effective in Texas, took the nation by storm in 2001 when Bush, wanting to be known as "the education president," championed the "No Child Left Behind Act," which required all states to develop achievement standards and do assessments against those standards. NCLB was passed with wide bipartisan support in Congress. Sadly, its popularity, like Bush's own, was short-lived.

Congress replaced NCLB in 2015 with the "Every Student Succeeds Act," which also had wide bipartisan support and was signed by President Obama. ESSA still requires standardized testing, but transfers some of the responsibility from the federal government to the states. Sadly, standardized testing is no more popular under ESSA than it was under NCLB.

How is it possible that a reform once esteemed by both Republicans and Democrats is now almost universally unpopular? Will the next President and Congress take another crack at it or will the nation give up on standardized testing altogether? Will Texas lead the retreat? It's looking that way.

Although it's possible to devote too much time to testing, without testing we'd have no direct way to judge the effectiveness of our teaching methods. There's a balance needed. If we're too far on the side of testing now, I fear that we're soon going to swing too far to the other side.