February 21, 2013

In Mansfield address, ex-education commissioner rejects high-stakes testing

Robert Scott rejects high-stakes testing and deep budget cuts.

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MANSFIELD -- Students, parents and teachers came from five school districts on Thursday to perform, discuss, promote and praise Texas public schools -- joining others around the state in what promoters are calling a Celebration Rally for Texas Public Schools.

This rally, at the Center for the Performing Arts, drew about 1,500 people, comparable to a three-district rally held in Northeast Tarrant County recently.

Choirs, orchestras and bands from Arlington, Mansfield, Kennedale, Grand Prairie and Midlothian showed off their skills, but the star speaker was former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott, who resigned from the Texas Education Agency last year and returned to his law practice.

Scott has become a critic of the state's dependence on high-stakes testing for students as well as the deep budget cuts made by the last Legislature.

He has called tests such as the STAAR exams "a perversion of its original intent."

Thursday, he was more moderate. "I just think it's gone a little overboard," Scott said of the testing.

There were high points during his 18 years with the Texas Education Agency, he said.

"My proudest moment was when Katrina hit, and we successfully took in 50,000 kids, many of whom were as much as four years behind," Scott said.

Still, Scott said, he was not happy with the huge $5.4 billion in education budget cuts that occurred in 2011.

"I've never spoken of this, but toward the end we had a conference committee after we had gotten the budget down to accommodate the cuts, and at that point I was encouraged to sign a letter supporting $2 billion more cuts," he said. "I refused to sign it."

He defended one of his most unpopular moves, which was to reject signing on to national Common Core standards for Texas students.

"I believe Texans should be able to go to Austin and testify before their state legislators, instead of writing a letter to Washington to ask if they can change something in third-grade curriculum," he said.

Most of the Arlington school board attended the rally, including Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos.

"I think this is an opportunity for the public to be engaged these issues," Cavazos said.

Many in the crowd expressed optimism, because more than 20 bills have already been introduced in the Legislature this session to relieve the testing requirements and restore funding.

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @startelegram

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