By Alia Malik, firstname.lastname@example.org
About 150 people from the San Antonio area told State Board of Education members last week that they wanted to see less emphasis on testing in schools and more teacher input while designing assessments.
“The end goal is a real-world job, a real-life opportunity,” said Cameron Wilson, a senior at the International School of the Americas in the North East Independent School District. “It’s not to see how students answer A, B, C or D on a test.”
The group of educators, parents, students and business representatives had been invited to the forum, organized by State Board chairwoman Donna Bahorich at Education Service Center Region 20 on the East Side. Bahorich said she organized the forum, one of eight across the state, to collect input for an interim legislative commission on assessments and accountability.
Andrew Kim, superintendent of the Comal Independent School District, and Pauline Dow, associate superintendent for instruction at North East ISD, serve on the commission and attended Wednesday’s forum. Both said they were struck by the number of people urging a greater emphasis on student progress, rather than raw scores.
Dow said she was pleased that the state board asked for student input.
“I think that’s an important voice that’s not often included,” Dow said.
The Legislature overhauled the state accountability system months ago, lessening the importance of standardized test scores in school evaluations but requiring the state to grade schools next year on an A-F scale. Legislators also established “graduation committees” to award diplomas to some high school students who failed end-of-course exams needed to graduate.
The change to letter grades for schools angered educators. Many still believe that scores on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, play too much of a role in evaluating schools under the new system, said Sandra West, a biology professor at Texas State University who taught science in the Northside and North East ISDs.
“If it’s 55 percent, it’s harder for many other measures to make a difference, so there are questions about the validity of the current assessments to measure the full abilities of a child,” West said.
The new year brought a new education commissioner at the state level and a new education secretary at the federal level. The federal No Child Left Behind Act was also rewritten last month, giving states more flexibility over their own accountability systems. It was a welcome coincidence for the legislative commission, which was created before anyone knew that the NCLB rewrite would pass, Bahorich said.
“Perhaps the timing is better,” Bahorich said. “There’s more of an ability to create what we’re trying to get.”
Testing students from immigrant families could be more of a concern in San Antonio than the other three major metropolitan areas in Texas, said Marisa Perez, one of two state board members representing the city.
“Particularly in Northside and North East ISDs, there are huge populations of refugees and newly immigrated families, and so for a lot of those students, language is always going to be a concern,” Perez said.