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Trace: at MMR_Render.Press_Release.Page_Load(Object sender, EventArgs e) Villarreal Urges Reform of TAKS Testing in Public Schools - News from Mike - Representative Mike Villarreal - District 123 San Antonio

Villarreal Urges Reform of TAKS Testing in Public Schools

Monday, April 14, 2008

San Antonio – Today Representative Villarreal testified before the Select Committee on Public School Accountability about his concerns regarding the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests and his recommendations for improvement. 


As the first witness to testify during the San Antonio field hearing, Rep. Villarreal expressed several concerns about the implementation of the current system, including the amount of time dedicated to testing and test preparation and the pressure on students, teachers and administrators.  He argued that a new testing system should focus on measuring student progress and using test scores to identify which students and schools need more assistance, such as expanded pre-kindergarten programs.


The Select Committee will continue to seek input from around the state as it prepares to make recommendations to the next Legislature for improving the education accountability system. Further information on the Select Committee and upcoming hearings is available online here: .


The full text of Rep. Villarreal's prepared testimony to the Select Committee follows.


Thank you for holding this meeting in San Antonio. The people of San Antonio feel passionately about improving our schools because we want our children to go further, reach higher, and achieve more than their parents.


I know you're hearing from a lot of people, so I want to focus my comments on the concerns I have heard from the people I represent, and offer a few specific recommendations for the future.


I believe the principal of education accountability is worthy, but we have gotten off track in its implementation. We can't return to the days when students and schools were able to slip through the cracks unnoticed, when some assumed it was normal and acceptable that certain students and certain schools from certain parts of town couldn't succeed. However, the status quo is also unacceptable.


The state legislature needs to evolve the accountability system so that our testing program measures academic growth, is aligned with readying students for post-secondary education, and identifies and assists low-performing schools and students.


For many, our testing program has become a high stakes system hostile to students and educators, which too often distorts rather than rewards and assists.


We hear disturbing reports about teachers spending weeks on end giving tests and preparing for tests.


Perhaps TAKS scores would be highest if teachers simply taught the curriculum, but many perceive that they must teach to the test to succeed, or at least survive.


I have even heard stories of second grade teachers, whose students don't take the TAKS for another year, spending time teaching test-taking skills so they aren't blamed if their students receive low TAKS scores in third grade.


I have heard stories of teachers who consider leaving the profession when faced with a re-assignment to a TAKS grade because the additional pressure just isn't worth it.


I have heard stories of principals who reassign their best teachers to TAKS grades, even if they are better suited and more experienced in other grades.


In addition to addressing the pressures and distortions that the current system produces, we need to improve how the system labels schools so that it communicates accurate and useful information. Parents don't know what to think when a school receives conflicting labels from the state and federal systems.  State labels such as "Academically Unacceptable" convey that the whole school has a problem, when in fact it may only be failing in one subject area in one grade. Our current system rewards some schools with the label of "Recognized" for having a certain number of students pass our minimum standards exam. I don't believe anyone should be "Recognized" for only doing the minimum.


We need to ensure schools are teaching to all students. Under our current testing system, schools have an incentive to neglect their top and lowest performing students, who they assume will pass or won't pass TAKS, respectively. Instead, they focus their time and resources on those students in the middle who they need to get over the threshold of correctly answering about 65% of the questions. This needs to change. Our testing system needs to recognize schools for growing the academic performance of all their students, not just moving all the students across a uniform minimum.


We must also review what we are trying to measure and make sure our assessments reflect our education policy goals. I recommend our testing system have an eye toward how our students perform in college or a chosen career.  I know Commissioners Paredes and Scott are working on College Readiness Standards. If we want to make sure that high schools are in fact preparing students for college, we should track our college-going and graduation rates.


Finally, I believe our testing program needs to be a better diagnostic tool that is followed up with targeted assistance to improve low-performing students and schools.  For example, ample research tells us that high quality early education can play an important role in boosting student achievement. When testing indicates that a school needs helps, I would like to strengthen pre-kindergarten in that school.  For struggling schools we should expand pre-k to a full day, expand pre-k eligibility, and ensure high quality pre-k curriculum and instruction, whether that is lower class sizes and ratios, enhanced professional development, or some other mechanism.


In conclusion, let's lower the pressure; reduce the time spent on testing; measure progress; communicate the results more effectively; align our measures with our policy goals; serve all students; and above all use the results to steer resources to the students and schools in need of help.


Thank you for your time and consideration.