Advocate editorial board opinion: Quit confusing public by changing grading every year

Aug. 1, 2011 at 3:01 a.m.

Standardized testing sounds good in theory.

Who doesn't want to know how students are doing in the classroom? Who doesn't want to learn more about the effectiveness of our public schools? We have long accepted grades as a reasonable measurement.

However, Texas' approach to standardized testing changes so much every year that it's virtually meaningless. If you got an A one year for your work and then a B for the same work the following year, what would you learn from this experience? That it just doesn't matter?

If this dizzying display weren't enough, the Texas Education Agency topped off the past two years by tossing out altogether the tests used since 2003 and starting over with an entirely different measurement next year. What a waste.

Legislators shoulder their share of the blame for all of the confusion. Working with TEA, they have never come up with an acceptable system for accountability ratings. Last session, they became unhappy with the Texas Projection Measure, which raised scores based on the potential improvement of students.

This questionable measure helped most districts raise their ratings. Not surprisingly, most scores dropped when the measure was removed this year.

Along with this change, the state increased standards in some areas by five points, increased the number of students taking the test, and increased the number of special education students taking the test. Why? The state contends it is trying to ramp up the standards each year.

To most parents, this is all meaningless mumbo-jumbo.

They are right to conclude that politicians and education leaders cannot come up with a fair but challenging test that can used each year to measure students' performance. They are right to conclude politics matters the most in this equation.

Next year, the state starts over with the so-called STAAR test. Surely a misnomer, this acronym stands for the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness.

We're told the new STAAR test will be more rigorous. We're told it can't be compared to the old Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, test.

Of course not. An easy comparison would make too much sense.

If parents take the time to dig into the dozens of numbers related to their school, they can figure out some basic information. They can learn our schools and society still need to do right by our economically disadvantaged and minority students. They can see that we need to teach math and science better.

Unfortunately, parents can't use the scores for much more than that.

"The future of accountability has yet to be written," Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott said Friday in announcing this year's results.

After a decade of trying TAKS, parents' patience is sorely tested.



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