Thursday, April 13, 2017

RISD Candidates on Standardized Testing

I asked the candidates for Richardson ISD Board of Trustees their opinions on a range of subjects. To limit bias on my part, I did not phrase the subjects in the form of questions. I invited the candidates to focus on whatever aspect of the subject they think is most important for RISD voters to consider when casting a ballot on May 6. My desire is to publish the candidates' opinions in their own words, so I will post their responses, unedited and without any accompanying editorial comment.

For readability, I've collated the responses by subject and will post the subjects separately. The topic of this post is "Standardized Testing."

Place 3
  • Joseph Armstrong:
    Standardized testing has been perhaps the most discussed issue in the field of education in recent years. What started as a noble pursuit to simply measure success and help improve where possible, has morphed into a bureaucratic operation with a focus on dollars and not student accomplishment. Much of this is done at the state and national level. For this reason, I think it is extremely important for a Trustee in the current state of education to be involved as much as possible in the legislative world. Some would disagree, but we must get out of the mindset that things, if left to the current representation, will work out for our best benefit. This is simply not true, and we’re currently seeing the results of years of not paying close enough attention and holding people accountable. Standardized testing MUST be reformed, and hard work must be done to make it happen, and we must not budge until this is accomplished.

  • Karen Clardy:
    Standardized testing is a subject many people feel strongly about one way or the other. For some, it causes additional stress on their student and for others they feel that it is the best way to access student’s abilities. Standardized testing gives teachers guidance to help them determine what to teach students and gives parents an idea how their students are doing across the country and locally. It can also give RISD a comparison on how we are doing as a school district. However, many feel that teachers are having to "teach to the test" and this gives the teacher less flexibility thus adding additional pressure on the teacher and the student. I think the key is to balance. We need to step back and look at both the good and the not so good reasons for standardized testing and find a way to make it as stress free as possible and limit testing that is not mandatory. TEA sent a letter out recently stating that students could leave the classroom when the test was completed along with a few other provisions. This last- minute (March 21) information really did not give our schools enough time to adjust to the new leniency policy. The big issue in many of our schools, especially those that are overcrowded was there was no place to take these students once they had completed the test. All areas in the building were being used for testing. Releasing students early could also be a concern because it may cause the student to hurry through the test. All tests are stressful, some more than others and the schools need to address the issue of reducing the stress of taking standardized testing but at the same time not diminish the importance of the tests. Once again, it is all about balance.

  • Eric Eager:
    We have gone too far in putting so much emphasis on standardized testing. I do feel that we need to do standardized testing to measure progress and how well we are doing in preparing our students for their futures. The problem is that the system is so far out of balance. Student, teacher, and school ratings are now too heavily based on how well students score on a test they take once a year.

    We have forgotten about the yearlong activities that our teachers do to help our kids succeed. Every child is different in their speed and comprehension of various topics. I feel that it is important that each child is entitled to a year of growth but we also need to measure how they are doing in relation to mastering subjects.

    We can't look at it as an either-or method of testing. We need to do both as a measurement of progress. I believe that we need to have a balanced emphasis on a student’s growth and subject proficiency to determine how are students, teachers, and school systems are being graded.

  • Ben Prado:
    Not the most effective way to benchmark the success of a school's students. However, it is one of the only few viable options. As a recent product of RISD and Texas schools, I am very familiar with the culture of learning for a test and forgetting information within minutes of a standardized test ending. That kind of behavior, culture, and planning needs to be avoided at all costs. Our students need to be truly understanding of the purpose of standardized tests and see its value to their education. Our teachers need to prepare our children for the future, not for a test. A general reset on our thoughts needs to happen. However, although that might sound all well and good, practically, we have to find a more tangible solution. Instruction is currently aimed at herding students into passing testing. That is unhealthy and counter productive to the success of our future. If we can find creative, efficient, and better ways to prepare students across our district, then they will naturally pass their standardized tests.

Place 6
  • Justin Bono (incumbent):
    Standardized testing has been around public education long before I was even in school. It’s ok to give kids a test. I get tested in the business world every day. Tests are part of life. Tests are a valuable tool to know where students stand, how well they grasp material, and how teachers need to intervene to increase their understanding of a particular topic. However, the significance placed on the STAAR test by our State with A-F ratings of schools and the stigma that comes with that has gone too far. Unfortunately, it’s not only the adults that feel the impact of these ratings on schools. The pressure rolls downhill to students. Instead of the students approaching the STAAR test like any other test, many approach it with anxiety and stress because of the environment created around this single test day.

    Again, the STAAR test along with other tests can be valuable tools in the educational system. Kids should be tested to determine what they have learned. As a district, we need to continue to strive to ensure that students are learning what they need to learn throughout the school year so that the STAAR test becomes just another test. We have made some progress in this regard, but still have plenty of room for improvement.

Place 7
  • Lynn Davenport:
    I am in favor of accountability and have no issue with testing our children as a means of measuring academic progress. However, I am convinced that the STAAR is an invalid accountability measure. The excessive emphasis on benchmarks and practice tests has diminished the love of teaching and the love of learning. The current accountability system is a form of educational malpractice and our children are suffering for it.

  • Kristin Kuhne (incumbent):
    As a parent and a trustee, I understand the concerns about high stakes testing. My son Rob was in the class that was supposed to take 15 end of course exams before graduation. I was glad that was reduced to the four administered today and I support limits on the amount of time it takes to administer a test. At its core, an assessment should provide information to teachers, students and parents about student learning. Having a common assessment tool gives us valuable insight into how a student is progressing relative to their peers. Teachers can use the information to customize learning for individual students. But as long as our high stakes accountability system is focused primarily on standardized tests, it can have negative consequences for student learning. Taking repeated STAAR practice tests deprive students of enriched lessons and deeper learning. As your trustee, I hold Dr. Stone accountable for teaching the standards, not the test, and fully implementing the instructional framework she created last year. I will continue to fight for assessment data that shines a light on student performance instead of punishing students, teachers and campuses.

Part 4 of 6.

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