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Commentary: HB 1336 is a plan for STAAR testing that deserves support

At the recent Save Texas Schools rally, I listened to state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) talk about his bipartisan bill, House Bill 1336. Leach is a certified public accountant who is pushing for truth and transparency in the amount of money our state spends each year on mandated STAAR testing.

He’s not just talking about how much money we pay Education Testing Service — $280 million over four years — but how much we are paying our professional teachers and staff members for the many hours we have to spend administering and monitoring these tests.

The bill states: “The annual financial management report must include … a description of the district’s total expenses related to administering an assessment instrument required.”

In other words, what exactly are we paying for — and how much are we spending annually? It’s shocking that no one before Leach has ever asked this question.

For instance, as a school librarian with 25 years of experience and a masters’ degree, I make $50,000 annually, or roughly $32 per hour — not counting the time I work outside of school hours. Texans are paying me $128 each time I monitor a STAAR test for four hours. During several days each year of STAAR testing, the Texas Education Agency threatens to strip us of our Texas teaching certificates if we read or do any other task while monitoring these tests. Once, I jokingly asked if it was OK for me to daydream — and I was told no. Just try to stop me! I’m writing this op-ed in my head.

Last legislative session, Pearson lost its testing contract to Education Testing Service in part because of the negative publicity Pearson garnered from advertising STAAR scoring jobs on Craigslist for $8 an hour. Maybe the state should pay outside test monitors $8 an hour and allow teachers the time to plan, grade or benefit from professional development.

The average annual teacher salary in Texas is $51,891 — $34 an hour. Extrapolate $136 for just one morning’s testing and multiply that by every public school teacher in Texas because, believe me, all hands are on deck during testing. Teachers are even stationed in hallways to monitor bathroom breaks. According to the Texas Tribune, the state hires 334,835 full-time teachers for 5.3 million public school children. Do the math. Four hours of STAAR testing is costing the state as much as $45 million in teacher pay alone. Add another $5 million for paraprofessional pay, and the total is as much as $50 million in personnel costs to administer one state exam.

I am not against testing and accountability per se — but I am against the kind of punitive, mandated, standardized testing that we’ve been forced to do for over two decades. Formative assessment — in which teachers continually monitor students for understanding and mastery — is critical to student learning growth. In contrast, the STAAR tests are post-mortem. By the time teachers receive the scores, it’s too late to intervene or reteach concepts. What STAAR tests measure most reliably is a student’s socioeconomic status. Ask yourselves this: What have we gotten from all this testing? From TEAMS to TAAS to TAKS to STAAR, can anyone point to a benefit?

Currently, the HB 1336 is pending in committee. Please contact your House representative to support Leach’s bill. If Texans know the true cost of all this state-mandated testing, we can all come together to eliminate or severely dial down these tests with the shared goal of using our talent and our treasure more wisely.

Stevenson is a longtime educator.

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