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Committee Considers Reducing Elementary, Middle School Testing

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Leticia Van de Putte

A week after the Senate voted to reduce standardized testing in high school, the Senate Education Committee took up a proposal to eliminate the STAAR writing test for 4th and 7th graders as well.

They also hinted at an interim study on the state’s process for developing the standards those tests are based on.

Most witnesses supported House Bill 2836 and said lawmakers should scale back testing even further, to decrease stress on kids and give teachers more time to get into detailed lessons. The bill also limits the time dedicated to the tests, and the number of benchmark tests schools can be give before the state test.

Laura Yeager, a parent and member of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, said the writing test isn’t an accurate measure of students’ writing skills, and used her son as an example. He’s in the top of his high school class, she said, but scored low on the writing test. Yeager said the test developer, Pearson, told her good writers often do poorly because they write more than the 26-line limit.

“We don’t think extra tests mean extra teaching,” Yeager said. “They lead to formulaic writing.”

Bill Hammond, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business, disagreed, as he has all session, arguing state tests are an important way to evaluate what students are learning across the state.

In a twist, Hammond agreed when Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) suggested that lawmakers should study the TEKS, the state standards the tests are based on, after the legislative session wraps up. Hammond said teachers are spread thin trying to cover too many TEKS before the tests, and worried about the state’s process for adopting the standards.

“Let’s solve these problems, not eliminate the tests,” Hammond said.

Developing the TEKS is the State Board of Education’s biggest responsibility, and their once-a-decade revisions are typically a contentious process. Van de Putte said she expected a “very vivd interim” discussing the TEKS, and committee chair Dan Patrick (R-Houston) agreed it could mean “a battle royale” over the process.

Highland Park ISD Superintendent Dawson Orr said that both testing and the vast number of TEKS teachers must cover create problems. “There’s simply too many standards to be addressed in a reasonable way in-depth,” he said.

Orr said teachers don’t know which TEKS to focus on because they don’t know which ones will actually be tested, a problem across many subjects, not just writing. He recalled the case of a teacher who said she felt pressure to cover all the TEKS, leaving little time for students to work through the concepts in detail.

“She essentially taught the lunar phase in one day, as opposed to student keeping journals, observing, using the scientific process to draw conclusions,” Orr said. “It was force-fed in one day.”

The Senate Education committee left the bill pending.