Get Rid of the System and You’ll be Failing Our Kids

Austin American Statesman

Get Rid of the System and You’ll be Failing Our Kids

By Bill Hammond, Local Contributor

July 22, 2012

Texas has long been a leader in assessment and accountability in its public schools.

Yet, what we’re seeing today is nothing short of a full-frontal assault on proven standards with demonstrable results.

Efforts to malign the state’s assessment and accountability standards as “drill and kill” testing that “costs too much” and is a “perversion of their original intent” is nothing more than rhetorical warfare, full of flair but devoid of facts. The fact is that accountability works and should be expanded, not dismantled.

Consider the National Assessment of Education Progress data that show Texas’ black and Hispanic students are achieving at more than three grade-levels higher in math than they were in 1992, when public school accountability and testing measures were first introduced.

Across the board, Texas’ fourth- and eighth-grade students — black, Hispanic and white — have all made significant progress in math, outpacing national averages. Testing results show progress in fourth- and eighth-grade reading, as well.

Assessment and accountability are essential to postsecondary readiness, and postsecondary readiness is absolutely vital to the future of our state’s economy.

That’s why organizations such as ours, along with many others in the business community, want state leaders to advance, not retreat from, the effective accountability measures that were established with broad-based, bipartisan support from the Texas Legislature.

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness give Texas taxpayers, parents, students and educators the ability to fairly and scientifically measure whether we are succeeding in providing access to quality education and preparing our children to be postsecondary ready, whether that’s college, technical or trade school or other credentialing programs.

Yet education bureaucrats appear to want to move away from a system of “trust, but verify” to simply, “Trust us, just take our word for it that we’re using tax dollars wisely and effectively to deliver a quality education to every Texas student.” That’s simply not acceptable.

The STAAR accountability system will extend the progress already seen in lower grade levels to high school, helping to ensure that our state’s students are well-equipped and prepared for future careers.

In addition to providing a more rigorous education and accountability system, STAAR end-of-course exams would actually reduce the cost and administrative burdens associated with additional state-mandated testing by allowing end-of-course exams to be administered as finals.

The state’s accountability system since its inception in the early 1990s has produced substantial progress.

STAAR and the earlier state assessments are cost-effective, scientifically proven tools to assure students, parents and taxpayers that Texas public schools are equipping students with essential skills and pertinent knowledge.

Last month, the Texas House Public Education Committee convened a public hearing to discuss the state’s new assessment system for public schools, including testimony from some very vocal opponents aggressively working to do away with the system. The tragic irony of that testimony and that public hearing date was not lost on me. It was Juneteenth. And, on a day that we commemorated the abolition of slavery, we also heard talk of dismantling and devolving the STAAR assessments and standards.

Texas’ black and Hispanic students stand to lose the most if education bureaucrats and their allies are successful in their rollback or abandonment of the state’s STAAR accountability measures for Texas public schools. Given the great progress that we’ve seen with improved academic performance among black and Hispanic students, I’d argue, too, that we’re facing a real civil rights issue.

We need every child to succeed. Doing away with our system of accountability for our public schools is morally bankrupt.

Hammond is President and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.