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Accountability – Texas Style June 17, 2013

Posted by latinoschoolleaders in Principal Effectiveness.
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PLC’s at work reviewing assessment data

In Texas, we recently passed the 45th day of state assessments. In literal terms, that means half a semester of school.

At the middle school level, our seventh graders have already taken the English Language Arts (ELA) and Math tests while our eighth graders have taken ELA, Math, Science and American History I tests. At the high school level, our 11th graders have already taken their versions of the same four tests: English III, Algebra II, Physics, and American History II. This past week, our ninth graders took Algebra 1, Biology and World Geography tests. Next week, our 10th graders will finish the testing season by taking their English II, Chemistry, and World History tests. To those of you not from Texas, I welcome you to State Assessments 101 – Texas style!

Did I mention that we started the school year with almost 40 twelfth graders who still needed to pass at least one of the 11th grade tests in order to graduate this school year? Over the course of those laste 45 days, we whittled that number of seniors down to about a dozen. In Texas, for most students, it doesn’t matter if you pass all your classes, receive all your credits or have a high GPA. If you don’t pass all your 11th grade state assessments you cannot graduate.

Some students fail the state assessments as 11th graders, come back as 12th graders and take them 1-4 more times, and a handful of them fall short in their efforts. It is painful to watch a student on their third or fourth attempt. It is not unusual to see them second guess each answer, sometimes taking over twelve hours to take a 50 question test. Far too often, the students who struggle on these tests are those who are labeled as at-risk.

Two years ago,  legislators in Texas decided it would be a good idea to make middle school students take eight 8 state assessments and high school students  take 15 end of course assessments.  Check out a a summary of that session. Those legislators also decided that the tests needed to be more rigorous, so the state of Texas contracted out that task, costing billions of dollars, to a corporation known for making student assessments. In some grade levels, students were to be penalized, held back and forced to receive additional remediation as a consequence for failing a state assessment.

During that legislative session, those same politicians cut the state education budget by $5.4 billion dollars. As an educator, I realize that I am biased. However, how do you justify more assessments that are more rigorous, requiring more intervention staff, when campus budgets are slashed? At our campus the reduction in funding was $500,000 That amount would have funded ten teachers.

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Students preparing for the science assessment

Those legislative decisions were destined to make schools look like failures. Not surprisingly, over the past two years, the number of schools considered as failing in Texas has dramatically increased. Even the more affluent suburban schools are now struggling with the demands that excessive testing and accountability has placed on them. Cash strapped inner-city schools, such as mine, where 43 percent of the student population receives ESL or Special Ed services, have it extra hard.

The politicians are in session in Austin again. This time, there is some discussion about cutting back on the amounts of mandatory testing. Legislators  are dealing with a revenue surplus of over $8 billion  that came as a result of the last draconian budget cuts. Nonetheless, there is no urgency to restore the $5.4 billion dollar funding cuts that they enacted last session. Instead, the Governor is adamant that the existing revenue surplus must be returned to local businesses in the form of tax cuts.

Consequently, accountability has two meanings in Texas, one applies to educators, who are held accountable by NCLB on a daily basis, and the other applies to politicians (and by default the general public) who refuse to be held accountable for the demise of public education.

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