The Commerce Journal

March 4, 2013

Testing isn’t everything

By Blake Cooper
The Commerce Journal

COMMERCE — The third part of this series deals with two topics that have become the lightning rods for debate this session — testing and accountability.

The much needed discussion began in January 2012 at the Texas Association of School Administrators’ Mid-Winter Convention in Austin.

Robert Scott, then Texas commissioner of education, shook up the education world when he said that standardized test-based accountability had led to a “perversion” of what a quality education should be.

Before I go any further, I want to make sure everyone understands an important fact; those of us in public education are not against accountability. We believe that we need to be held accountable for the progress the children in Commerce ISD are making toward graduation and becoming a “future-ready” student.

The problem is that we take the performance of any particular student and their ability to score a passing rate on a third grade writing test and it determines if a school district is a successful or failing school district.  

A group of superintendents have put together an accountability system that takes into effect the growth of students throughout the year. This is an important part of students’ learning. Adding on top of our state accountability is the federal government’s accountability system called AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress.  

They have different standards than Texas standards so we have to juggle all of the data and results to figure if we do meet AYP. Add in PBMAS (special education) and FIRST (state financial accountability) and you can see that we spend a lot of time dealing with accountability on a many levels.

The other part of this issue deals with testing. If you have been following the news you know how this has gotten out of hand — TABS, TAAS, TAKS, now STAAR!  An interesting fact, this year’s seniors have never known life without high stakes TAKS testing.  

With the implementation of the STAAR/EOC Testing, we have now taken standardized testing to a new level. For example, if a student entering high school does not pass their EOC tests (which the state said that 45 percent of students would not … and they were correct), and they continued to take tests and did not pass, they potentially could take as many as 110 tests in their four years.

Of course, in real life they would not take that many because they would drop out of high school. Reality is that this is a system that has gotten out of hand.  

Because of a bureaucracy that has determined what they think our students should know along with implementing a punitive accountability system, we have taken creativity out of the classroom and replaced it with a system of teachers teaching to a test, because the community’s reputation is, in part, determined by the results of these tests.  

Dr. Paul Houston’s book, “Giving Wings to Children’s Dreams,” he writes:

“Students today are asked to master the ‘what’ without going the next steps of exploring the ‘what if’ or the ‘why not’.”

Both questions require imagination, fantasy, or sense of playfulness. Thomas Edison puts it bluntly: “To innovate, all you need is a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

As we move forward in the months ahead, Commerce ISD will be coming to the Commerce community for your input asking what you want a graduate from Commerce ISD to “look like.”

How important is a state-based accountability rating? We want to prepare our students for whatever future lies ahead for them.  We want our students to be “Future-Ready,” not simply be good test takers.

Until next time … GO TIGERS!

Blake Cooper serves as superintendant of Commerce Independant School District.