Texas education commissioner says he favors smaller-scale tests


As the state considers replacing its standardized testing system, Texas’ top education official said Tuesday that he envisions assessing students on a smaller scale throughout the year.

Mike Morath, a former Dallas school district trustee who was appointed Texas education commissioner in December, spoke before the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. The 15-member group has been tasked with making recommendations to lawmakers by Sept. 1 to improve or replace the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, and how school districts and students are held accountable.

In what might be his first public stance on standardized testing as education commissioner, Morath told commission members that he wants to explore whether it’s possible to implement a series of smaller computer-based assessments, so that teachers are given immediate feedback on how students are performing and can adapt their instruction, and the state is given holistic profiles of students at the end of the year.

“The idea of using a continuous, but low-touch formative assessment throughout the course of the year and then building a summative picture from that has a great deal of merit in my mind,” Morath said. “When you start looking at the state mandating one specific approach in every classroom, it becomes problematic.”

Many school districts have developed and used their own system of diagnostic measures administered throughout the year, and teacher groups like the Association of Texas Professional Educators support Morath’s idea.

Since the STAAR was first administered in 2012, parents and school district officials have criticized it for failing to give sufficient and timely feedback as well as being too rigorous and too high stakes. High school students must pass five end-of-course STAAR exams to graduate and fifth- and eighth-graders must pass their respective exams to move on to the next grade. A law passed last year allows high school students who fail up to two end-of-course exams to appeal to a committee of their teachers, parents and administrators to graduate.

Too many state curriculum standards are tested on the STAAR, forcing teachers to teach to the test and without any depth, critics also say.

Those complaints were brought up to the commission again Tuesday with more than 20 people signing up to speak.

Nicole Oman of Taylor said that her son, who is dyslexic, failed the English II end-of-course STAAR three times — once by one question — and dropped out of high school three months shy of graduation. Oman said the tests should be diagnostic rather than punitive.

“I cannot tell you and express to you enough the amount of stress and pressure this test placed on my son,” Oman said. “It is like a big bully at school just ripping your child up to shreds.”

Cynthia Ruiz, an English teacher in Pflugerville, said there are students on her campus who have failed the English I end-of-course STAAR up to nine times.

She said that students are overtested and that testing is driving instruction.

“The redundancy of requiring to take a five-hour English test in both their freshman and sophomore year is a waste of time and money and is draining our teachers and students,” Ruiz said.

Commission members also heard recommendations to consider improving state standards that measure if a student is ready for college or careers and testing a sample number of students each year instead of all students.

Invited representatives from companies that administer the SAT and ACT told commissioners that several states are using their tests in lieu of state and federally developed standardized tests.

Commission member and state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, asked whether the state’s version of the SAT, called the Texas Success Initiative assessment, typically administered to students looking to enter community college, could replace the bemoaned STAAR end-of-course exams.

The next commission meeting will be March 23.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Boxer Victor Ortiz arrested on rape charge 
Boxer Victor Ortiz arrested on rape charge 

Former welterweight boxing champion Victor Ortiz was arrested in California on Tuesday and charged with three felony sexual assault charges, ESPN reported. >> Read more trending news  Ortiz, 31, turned himself in to the Oxnard Police Department Tuesday afternoon. His bail was set at $100,000. According to a police report, Ortiz is charged...
FORECAST: High of 86, then rainy cold front drops temperatures
FORECAST: High of 86, then rainy cold front drops temperatures

Wednesday forecast for Austin: Rain is likely to roll into Central Texas with a cold front this afternoon but not before temperatures peak in the upper 80s, the National Weather Service said.  Rain chances will hover around 60 percent all day Wednesday, but rain is most likely to fall after 1 p.m., forecasters said. Storm clouds could produce...
Cold front to bring rain, cooler temperatures to Austin
Cold front to bring rain, cooler temperatures to Austin

Any rain is good rain in Austin, as long as it doesn’t fall too fast, forecasters say — and it likely won't on Wednesday as a weak cold front comes into Central Texas near the end of a particularly wet month.   The cold front moving from the west into the area could produce showers and thunderstorms through Thursday, National...
Hiking cost of entry fees attempts to address city’s ailing pool system
Hiking cost of entry fees attempts to address city’s ailing pool system

Starting next week, the price to take a dip in a city of Austin pool will rise. On Monday, adult residents will start paying $5 — or $2 more — to enter Barton Springs Pool and all other city pools. Juniors aged 12 to 17 will pay $3, and children from 1 to 11 will pay $2. Both figures represent a $1 increase. Senior residents will pay $2...
UT investigating Sen. Charles Schwertner after sexual misconduct claim
UT investigating Sen. Charles Schwertner after sexual misconduct claim

The University of Texas is investigating an allegation that state Sen. Charles Schwertner sent a sexually explicit image and text message to a graduate student he met at an on-campus event this summer, three senior UT officials with knowledge of the investigation told the American-Statesman. If the allegation is deemed true, the university would consider...
More Stories