Tragically, soon thereafter, Texas changed course. It began to lower standards and implement policies that weakened accountability. And, as a result, the state, from 2011-2016, lost ground in virtually every measure of student achievement. Here are but a few accounts of this sad turn of events: http://sandykress.weebly.com/blog/-hard-to-climb-out-of-the-education-hole-in-texas; http://sandykress.weebly.com/blog/problems-ahead-for-latino-students-in-texas; http://sandykress.weebly.com/blog/the-texas-problem-pretending-its-good-when-its-not; and http://sandykress.weebly.com/blog/-the-texas-8th-grade-math-drop-is-bad-and-its-statistically-significant.
Texas is no longer competing with Massachusetts or any other state at the top. Now our reputation is that of a state that is just above average, mostly because of past gains, and one that is stalling, indeed losing ground.
There have been a few signs recently that our state is trying to arrest the fall. The legislature adopted an accountability system of A-F to bring a dose of rigor back to the system. The governor appointed a smart, effective reformer as education commissioner. Many continue to fight for strong academic standards. And the governor, lieutenant governor, and others have proposed to inject greater parental choice into the system.
But, just as we begin to feel hopeful, we see awful proposals in the legislature, threatening to take the state even lower.
What are they, and what harm would they do?
First, there’s a proposal to make permanent a waiver that effectively removes high school end of course exams from graduation decisions. Students have been permitted multiple tries to pass freshmen/sophomore exams in English and Algebra. This bill cheapens the diploma and lowers the bar for all by essentially making passing unnecessary. We had begun to graduate more students ready for college and career. This progress is now stalled.
Second, there’s a proposal to get rid altogether of the end of course exams in the 9th and 10th grades and replace them with a single test in the 11th grade. This test is actually a good one in that it is aligned to k-12 standards and predictive of college success. The problem with the proposal is that if parents and students don’t learn of proficiency problems until the 11th grade there’s no time to deal with them. Further, without data on 9th and 10th grade performance, high school accountability is made difficult, if not impossible.
Third, and worst of all, there is a proposal that would:
- exclude standardized test scores in teacher evaluation;
- reduce the weight of the standardized test from 55% to 25% in determining the A-F grades; and
- allow individual school districts to bid out the standardized tests and not use state tests.
a) It could violate the provisions of federal law and jeopardize federal funding to the state.
b) While tests ought not dominate evaluation of teachers, they should be part of it in order to assure that evaluations are objective and based in part on student academic growth to state standards.
c) Tests should be aligned to state learning expectations, not Common Core or national norms.
(If some want to measure to national standards, they ought to admit it; and if they want to go to local standards, let's amend the constitution, cut state funding significantly, and make education really local.).
d) While grading schools ought not be too based on tests, 25 percent is way too low, and creates too much room for subjective criteria that make ratings non-comparable and meaningless.
There are ways to make the current system better and reform some of the ridiculous use of tests that infuriate parents and teachers. But this proposal throws out the baby, the dog, the cat, and the canary with the bath water.
The issue for Texas is simple: do we reverse course, get back on track, and strive once again to be a top state in educating students effectively? Or are we willing to continue the race to the bottom in education?