Mixed emotions on high-stakes testing
By Natalie Manka
After much debate and pressure from educators and parents, Texas lawmakers are moving toward loosening high school graduation requirements and significantly reducing high-stakes testing.
“There’s just a lot of testing and it makes kids more nervous because we’re already concerned about passing our regular classes much less state tests,” sophomore Brittany Casanova said.
House Bill 5 won preliminary passage on a 145-2 vote on March 26.
The legislation, being reviewed this week in a Texas Senate Education Committee hearing, could reduce from 15 to five the number of end-of-course exams needed for graduation. It basically amounts to an about-face for Texas, which has been at the forefront of the standardized testing movement.
Under this proposal, the required tests would be only for algebra, biology, U.S. history, and 10th-grade reading and writing.
“Reducing the amount of End-of-Course exams for graduating would be logical,” English I and Yearbook teacher Christina Rodriguez said. “For English Language Arts, reading and writing are tested separately, meaning students are responsible for two separate timed tests each year. If this remains the case, it would be to the advantage of students to have two class periods to cover the material necessary. However, since this is not a reasonable task for many smaller districts, it would be beneficial to the student population to combine the reading and writing (because they are interdependent) on the EOC as they are in the class setting. This would definitely reduce the amount of EOCs by at least one a year. With the status quo, so much time is being spent on testing that students are losing out on a great deal of instruction time.”
Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA), cofounded by parent and lawyer Dineen Majcher, has pushed to ease the strict graduation requirements.
Not everyone agrees with reducing testing. Sophomore Miranda Leal said it would reduce pressure, of course, but that she doesn’t favor lowering standards.
“The EOC exams are necessary to make sure we know what we’re being taught,” she said. “I don’t like the tests, but I know they are necessary.”
Freshman Cib Braun added that testing holds students accountable for learning in their classes and becoming successful in college and the workplace.
“I think that reducing the amount of 15 tests to five tests is a bad idea,” he said. “With more tests, it prepares us for the future.”
The proposed bill also would replace the current “4x4” graduation plan -- four years of English, math, science, and social studies -- with several different paths to a diploma. The aim is to increase flexibility for students, particularly those seeking career and technical training.
“(Under the current education laws), students graduating with a recommended diploma must achieve satisfactory scores on all STAAR tests,” Principal Tom Warlick said. “Students looking to graduate with a distinguished diploma must achieve scores in the third, advanced level on their English III and Algebra II exams.”
Students who do not pass or just seek to improve their scores can retake the tests as many times as they wish.
“We provide tutorials for students who were not successful on their tests,” Warlick added. “Students who wish to higher their scores are welcome to attend these tutorials in order to prepare.”
Any student interested in doing this is instructed to visit Counselor Yolanda Soliz immediately.
“Right now there is a big question mark when it comes to the STAAR,” Warlick said. “As a principal, I just hope the Legislature will come up with a plan in the best interest of students and parents.”
The tests’ creators, Pearson Education, who make millions of dollars from it, oppose easing up on testing.
“We are very encouraged by the passing of HB 5, but that’s only part of the battle,” KCISD Superintendent Jeanette Winn said, noting that the lieutenant governor had stalled the bill from moving to the Senate Education Committee but then changed his mind late last week.
June 16 is the last day Texas Gov. Rick Perry can sign or reject a bill, if passed by both the House and Senate during this spring’s regular legislative session.
Natalie Manka is a sophomore at Karnes City High School. She is a member of the color guard, band, and the “Badger Times.” The daughter of Mark Manka and Delma Manka, her future plan is to pursue writing opportunities.