As Texas students started taking a new state-mandated test this week, districts across the state have gradually signed on to a resolution that says high-stakes standardized tests are "strangling our public schools."
The emphasis on state testing has become so prominent that high school students could spend up to 45 of the 180 days in an academic year just in standardized testing, Denise Williams, testing director for the Wichita Falls Independent School District, told the Times Record News. Those exams are stacked on top of classroom tests, Advanced Placement exams and college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT. Students in the third through eight grades now spend 27 days out of the year in testing, up from a previous 19 days.
The tests administered this year, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, made their debut Monday as a more rigorous replacement for the previous Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. (Try your hand at some of the questions below).
For ninth graders, a student's STAAR score was originally set to count for 15 percent of a final grade. Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott later decided to postpone that rule for a year, and districts have until May 1 to decide whether to use the STAAR to determine a student's passing of a course.
The resolution against high-stakes tests, sent out by the Texas Association of School Administrators, has been adopted by 192 of the 1,000-plus districts across Texas as of March 27.
The statement calls for, among other things, the state Legislature to reexamine the academic accountability system and create a system that "encompasses multiple assessments, reflects greater validity, uses more cost efficient sampling techniques and other external evaluation arrangements, and more accurately reflects what students know, appreciate and can do in terms of the rigorous standards essential to their success, enhances the role of teachers as designers, guides to instruction and leaders, and nurtures the sense of inquiry and love of learning in all students."
The resolution also says that an over-reliance on high-stakes testing is "strangling our public schools and undermining any chance that educators have to transform a traditional system of schooling into a broad range of learning experiences that better prepares our students to live successfully and be competitive on a global stage."
The backlash in Texas brewing against standardized testing could become a dominant movement against a law that originated in that very state. The No Child Left Behind Act -- the Bush-era law that requires annual testing -- has been a huge hurdle for many states, which face consequences for low-performing schools. January's National Opt-Out Day marked by teach-ins across the country called for an end to high-stakes testing.
To lessen the strain of a one-size-fits all approach to student assessments, the Education Department has issued waivers to 11 states, allowing them more freedom from the law. States that seek waivers from the Obama administration are required to adhere to a measurement, curriculum and assessment plan proposed during the application process. An additional 26 states have applied for waivers.
Even so, some states are still trying to further lessen the emphasis on standardized tests. Virginia's state Senate voted to pass a bill in January that scales back statewide tests for 3rd graders -- cutting history and science from the list and only requiring English and math exams to allow teachers to focus on improving proficiency in those subjects.
The move by the Virginia Senate comes after a draft of a Republican bill would eliminate the federal requirement for statewide science testing. The draft legislation, introduced by House Republicans led by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chair of the House Education Committee, marks a reversal of provisions under the current No Child Left Behind Law, which requires science testing at least three times -- once each during elementary, middle and high school.
Texas' deferment of its 15 percent rule was in part a response to questions of fairness, as students' test scores would not have factored into school accountability ratings until next year.
"It wasn't fair to fully hold the ninth graders accountable when we're not counting schools accountable," Texas Education Agency spokesperson Debbie Ratcliffe told the San Marcos Mercury.
Having the extra year also allows students more time to adjust to the more rigorous exams.
In anticipation of the STAAR, the TEA released resource sets for student preparation. Beginning next year, students in grades five and eight must pass the reading and math STAAR exams to be promoted, and high school students must pass the exams to graduate. Based on some of the released sample questions for the eighth grade exams in math, science, reading and social studies, would you be promoted to the ninth grade? Test your knowledge below: