Thursday, May 19, 2016

Since When Do We Grade Based on “Unacceptable” Tests?

The recent challenges with testing in Texas are well documented, ranging from a need to review writing tests to incomplete answer sets.  Many, including a group of about 50 superintendents, have sent letters to the commissioner urging him not to use these flawed tests in the accountability rating structure.  But in an article published recently in the Dallas Morning News, their concerns were largely ignored.   The complete article can be found by clicking here.  While acknowledging that the administration of STAAR tests this year is “unacceptable”, Commissioner Morath indicated that the results of the tests will be a part of the state accountability ratings.

What is particularly troubling to me as a public education advocate is the performance by Educational Testing Services (ETS).  As an example, ETS acknowledges that they were not prepared and had not trained the number of individuals required to grade tests.  We’re talking accountability on the part of students, campuses and districts but where is the accountability for ETS and how can we be certain that steps they are taking to address issues won’t continue to exist as we move forward with additional testing?  And while ETS acknowledged their failures and indicated that, “we have no intention of making this a regular occurrence”, what assurance do we have that this will in fact be resolved without impact students directly?

The article further acknowledged the challenges first surfaced by Lewisville ISD relating to scores on the writing portion of the test.  Of the 130 submitted for review, scores were changed on 20% of them.  And TEA confirmed that about 92% of the scores statewide were unchanged.  This may be a glass half empty or half full discussion but I zero in on the fact that 8% of the scores were changed.  I don’t have a reference point relating to performance by the prior testing administrator but 8% seems like a high number to me!  This number has an extraordinary impact on students, teachers and administrators alike.

Having met with the commissioner earlier this year and following his decisions on a variety of topics, I do believe that he is focused on doing what is necessary to ensure accountability ratings that are fair.  I don’t have the benefit of the bigger picture that he reviewed when making his decision but strongly encourage him to continue to focus not just on outcomes, i.e., test results, but the processes that get us there, including work done by ETS.  And in the spirit of accountability and grades, ETS clearly deserves a failing grade for much of their initial effort under a $280 million contract.  Accountability is the key as we strive to Make Education a Priority.

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