The lack of accountability for accountability standards

The latest school accountability ratings are out and few people can make much sense of them. A story in the  Corpus Christi Caller Times  (“Complex accountability system frustrates educators, confuses parents“) provided several examples of parent who found the state’s rating system useless and instead took the revolutionary action of actually talking to teachers and principals.

The Victoria Advocate (“Move over TAKS, state has new STAAR test“) reminds us that Texas will have brand new standards. The STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) test will appear this school year and give Texans an entirely new foundation for  judging schools. The STAAR tests are designed to encourage a deeper understanding of the material.

A story in the Texas Tribune (“With Change in Formula, Texas School Ratings Drop“) takes a look at the recently released state-wide school ratings. They noticed that dropping the “Texas Projection Measure” produced a dramatic shift.

Comparison of 2010 and 2011 TEA school ratings

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott tried to assure Texans that these latest results were “absolutely real and valid.” You have to wonder what kind of dramatic variations in results would lead Scott to question the validity of these scores. If shifts this big do not lead Scott to ask serious questions, nothing will.

Clearly, the leadership in the state will continue to deny even the most obvious signs of a problem. This is the risk of having one regime in power too long. It can not afford to admit its mistakes.

As I noted at this time last year, the ratings had become so inflated that they held no credibility and the Texas Legislature voted unanimously to make the Texas Education Agency (TEA) revert to a more realistic measure. The absurdity of this scheme is nicely illustrated by the 200+ pages of the  “Accountability Manual” that the TEA provides.

We have allowed our elected officials to scapegoat the state’s teachers for too long. Standardized tests serve as a shell game that political forces use to constantly shift blame away from themselves. In the process, Texas public school students suffer. I have never heard a college faculty member or employer say that students today are better prepared for college or the workforce. At best, Texas public school students have simply been better programmed for the useless task of taking standardized tests. At worst, they have lost the creativity and critical thinking skills they need to succeed.

The state’s political leaders have an incentive to perpetuate these phony scores. Some teachers may be struggling in the classroom and local school boards my be struggling to put together a quality education for every student. However, it seems clear that they are doing a better job than the state’s education bureaucracy.


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