Feb 25, 2019

Advocates Continue Push to Lessen Importance of Standardized Tests in Texas

Reporting Texas

The state Capitol in Austin, Texas. Brittany Mendez/Reporting Texas

The debate over the proper role of standard tests in evaluating student performance has been going strong in Texas, and around the nation, during the past decade. State Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) wants the debate to continue. In January, Landgraf filed a bill that would eliminate the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR test, from graduation and grade-level promotion requirements.

The lawmaker’s measure reflects anti-standardized-testing sentiment that has driven lawmakers to considering scaling back testing during the past several legislative sessions. Opponents say the tests are not an accurate measure of student or school performance, have led to a neglect of non-tested subjects and are biased against poor and minority students. Texas students are required to pass the STAAR test to move onto the next grade level or graduate from high school.

“Rather than looking at the work a student has done over a semester or school year, the tests looks at one day. Teachers are forced to ‘teach the test’ so that the largest number of students can achieve scores that meet the minimum level of satisfaction,” Landgraf said in a statement.

Sheri Hicks, a board member for the advocacy group Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, agrees and supports Landgraf’s bill.

“When you attach high stakes, people start focusing on what is on the test,” Hicks said. “You narrow curriculum, and that isn’t helping kids prepare for post-secondary school.”

Tying standardized testing to graduation can also create an atmosphere of punishment, says Julian Vasquez Heilig, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at California State University, Sacramento.

“Texas has always been really big on punishment, punishing people, punishing schools, punishing everybody,” Heilig said. “Most testing is for informational purposes. It’s not so that you can punish the kids, so they don’t go to the next grade or … so they don’t graduate from high school.”

Heilig says students from impoverished backgrounds tend to do worse on the exams due to a lack of resources.

“These testing regimes have hurt students of color in poor communities,” Heilig said. “We ask some students to run a mile race without their Nike shoes, and then when they have a problem doing it, we say, well, there’s something wrong with them, with their teachers, with their school.”

Not everyone is a fan of Landgraf’s bill. Cameron Petty, the communication specialist for Texas Aspires, an education-focused non-profit organization, says his group is concerned about the measure.

“For years and years we had social promotion where just because you were a year older, you went to the next grade, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you learned everything you needed to learn,” Petty said. “We want there to be significant, but manageable pressure on the adults in the system to make sure students are learning what they need to learn every year.”

On the question of whether the bill will become law, Hicks says the process will have to play out. “It’s too early to predict at this point,” she said.