Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Teaching Over Testing Act

In case you missed it, Rep. Jason Isaac introduced House Bill 1333 last week, a bill that would reduce the impact of standardized testing in our schools and, more importantly, on our students.  A release about the “Teaching Over Testing Act” summarized four critical reforms:
  •         Instill competition among test providers
  •         Reduce the number of exams
  •         Remove STAAR from teacher evaluations
  •         Reduce weight of STAAR in school ratings
On their own, each of these reforms is a significant step toward renewing a focus on what is taught in the classroom.  As a whole, implementation would truly diminish what has become an overwhelming impact of a test given on a single day that causes so much stress in students and staff alike.  Whether the bill as filed will have an opportunity to be heard by the full House or whether the idea will be given any consideration by the Senate remains to be seen.

As a parent, I did not have the opportunity to experience the impact of the STAAR exam on my children; TAKS was the testing environment when they were in school.  But I have two grandchildren, including a third grader, so I am quickly beginning to realize the impact as a result of conversations with my daughter.  She and other parents in my grandson’s elementary school have already started to fret over the preparation required to get their children ready to take the exam.  Some have received the advance paperwork, some have not so there is a great deal of uncertainty among groups of parents.  They know it’s coming, but what they don’t know is how it will impact them if this is their first exposure to the impact of the STAAR exam.

I did see one symptom of trying to address concerns that teachers have been able to identify.  There are some in my grandson’s 3rd grade class who can read well but apparently are struggling with reading comprehension.  To her credit, his teacher launched a tutoring class for those interested in increasing their comprehension skills without really having to disclose to the children why she is doing so.  This is exactly the type of initiative that will benefit these students even as they go through the stress leading up to and during test day.  It’s also a great example of the work that teachers do in our classrooms every day, yet they continue to face criticism that our public schools are not meeting the needs of today’s students.

One quick comment on HB1333 and the first reform, instilling competition among test providers.  After the fiasco of ETS in their first year of managing the testing environment, all options should be on the table.  And if SB3 (the school choice/vouchers (by any name) bill) can target “any nationally norm-referenced assessment instrument” as acceptable for non-ISD schools, why should that not be the case in our public schools?

Rep. Isaac is to be applauded and thanked for taking the initiative with HB1333.  He certainly is one in Austin who is focused on those actions that will make education a priority.

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