Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Power of Engagement!

It would be easy for parents, students, teachers and administrators to sit around and bemoan the issues students in the 5th and 8th grades recently experienced when taking the STAAR test.  It would be easy to blame the failures on a new test provider, ETS, rather than to look at the root cause of the issues that led to the problems.  And it would be easy for TEA to do nothing, to deny the existence of issues associated with testing. 

Instead, and to his credit, Mike Morath, TEA commissioner, acknowledged the issues faced by districts across the state when he announced that Fifth and eighth graders who failed STAAR exams this year won’t be held back a grade or be required to retest later this month.  For a summary of this issue and the implications, click here

The decision by Commissioner Morath represents a change in position since he had originally denied that the issue was widespread enough to impact overall accountability results.   It is a decision that was clearly impacted by a suit filed by a group of parents who challenged the use of STAAR exam results in making a decision about whether a student could be promoted to the next grade.  And that’s what engagement is all about.  The challenge to STAAR results is yet another example of how community engagement can impact decisions made by elected officials and those appointed to serve the needs of our students.

But it cannot stop with each single issue that comes up for discussion.  The recent Supreme Court ruling that the current school finance system meets the “minimum constitutional requirements” should serve as a rallying cry for all of those who support public education.  Our students deserver more than the “minimum” and it is up to all of us to make certain that this need is understood.  We can all sit by and hope that the legislature will take action in response to the Court’s ruling.  Or we can take the initiative to ensure that they do take action.

There are numerous examples where community engagement has had a dramatic impact on legislation that is introduced in Austin.  We need to look only as far as end-of-course exams and the reduction from 15 to 5 as a result of the efforts of TAMSA (Texans Advocating or Meaningful Student Assessment) and others to realize how significant engagement can be in providing a quality education system for the more than 5.2 million students in Texas.  

But we must remind ourselves that some of our elected officials are satisfied with a system that is so complex that it does not meet the needs of all stakeholders.  They are satisfied that they have the opportunity to advance a personal agenda rather than focus on the needs of those they were elected to serve.  Our political system is all about satisfying the needs of those in power … at least until they are “forced” to acknowledge and respond to the needs of their constituents, whether by the courts or voters in their districts.

Now is the time for public education advocates to come together, to engage and to unite in support of our students, in short to Make Education a Priority.

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