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Fixing standardized testing in Texas is like 'Jaywalking' in Austin

By BY PATRICK HUBBELL
Feb. 1, 2013 at 5:01 p.m.
Updated Jan. 31, 2013 at 8:01 p.m.

Patrick Hubbell

Like most teachers, I try to keep up with what our legislators in Austin are up to. This is the time of year the folks who have spent the least amount of time in a classroom take it upon themselves to tell us how to run ours. The road to hell is paved by committees with good intentions.

According to a recent update by the Texas Federation of Teachers, a representative of San Antonio, Mike Villarreal, filed HB 596 to address multiple concerns raised by parents, educators and business leaders regarding the state's excessive use and misuse of standardized testing.

One of the unique features of the bill would cap at 10 percent the total number of school days spent on state tests and district-required tests in preparation for state exams. The school year consists of 180 days, give or take, so that comes to a limit of (hmm, decimal place moves over one space to the left, right?) 18 days. That's more than three school weeks.

Just think, one whole grading period plus three days to come up with an extra project to bring up your grade for dancing, prancing, running and tooting. In other words, drill team, cheerleading, track, ROTC, marching band, basketball.

When your livelihood depends on the outcome of state testing, you can't really blame schools for squandering a whole grading period to ensure the students will succeed. Keep in mind, most of the ones holding us back are slack-jawed underachievers who would amuse the Tonight Show audience with the "Jaywalking" segment.

Jay Leno: In what year was the War of 1812 fought?

Below-Average Student: Uh, I think that was in 1999.

Jay Leno: 1999? Are you sure?

Below-Average Student: Yeah, that was the year the Vietnam War ended, right?

Jay Leno: Yeah, yeah. 1999. And that coincided with the invention of vacuum tubes, the vacuum cleaner and tube tops.

Below-Average Student: Uh, yeah, Jay. Whatever. LOL! You mean HALTER tops!

Jay Leno: I stand corrected. Viewers, halter tops, not tube tops. LOL!

Smiley wink!

Imagine if a cancer patient on chemotherapy treatment were limited to feeling nauseated for 10 percent of the time. It would never occur to most legislators that the correct action would be to remove the disease altogether.

Fortunately, the writer of this bill anticipated this objection and added a codicil to forbid the use of scores on state accountability assessments as a criterion for recognized and exemplary ratings of districts and campuses. Perhaps he's pushing this bill in the interest of common sense. But then, it's also possible he's pushing this bill to help the Texas Education Agency save face. For the second year in row, the TEA has delayed the so-called 15-percent rule whereby the end of course tests will count for 15 percent of a student's graduation requirements.

Interestingly, the impetus behind this is Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick.

As further proof this is not a Democratic issue or a union grievance, Republican Kel Seliger introduced his own bill to drastically cut back by two-thirds the number of tests student must take to pass. Seliger was appointed by Dewhurst to chair the Senate Higher Education Committee. He also serves on a newly-created committee to study the public school finance system. When the state's top leaders in education of both parties plus the governor and lieutenant governor agree on something this important, you may well wonder if Armageddon is about to begin.

Patrick Hubbell lives in Victoria and is a Spanish teacher in the Victoria school district.

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