August 25, 2014

Accountability, like math, is complicated

Some of the pressure to understand math has been lifted from Texas public school fifth- and eighth-graders this year.

Some of the pressure to understand math has been lifted from Texas public school fifth- and eighth-graders this year.

They’ll still be accountable to instructors for passing classroom tests, but they don’t have to worry about passing State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness math tests.

For this year only, Education Commissioner Michael Williams said Friday, students can move on to the sixth or ninth grade without passing the statewide math exams.

That might bring a sigh of relief from many students, but it’s another layer of confusion for anyone who wants to understand the twists and turns of the state’s public school accountability system.

For years, that system was based on gradually increased rigor. Exams were a little tougher and passing scores were a little higher each year, with students and schools expected to take it in stride.

Most of them did. The state periodically upgraded its tests to stay ahead.

Business leaders were pleased. They’ve pressed for rigorous standards to ensure a better-educated workforce.

In Friday’s announcement, Williams said relaxing standards this year is necessary because educators face “substantial challenges” in adapting to a new statewide math curriculum in grades three through eight.

The Student Success Initiative, adopted in 1999 and modified in 2009, aimed to deter social promotion. It said fifth- and eighth-graders could not move to the next grade without passing the math tests.

Business leaders were not pleased about backing away from that.

“The standard needed to pass these tests is already very low and the commissioner has just lowered that passing standard to zero,” said Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business. “This is another example of going back on high standards, even if it is just for this school year.”

Some other people have not been pleased with the Student Success Initiative promotion requirements. They point out that statewide tests are meant to be a tool to hold schools and educators accountable for educating students, not for punishing students who do not pass.

Pushback against the increasingly rigorous testing regime was particularly strong during the Legislature’s 2013 session.

It focused primarily on high school end-of-course exams required for graduation. Lawmakers listened and reduced the number of required exams from 15 to five.

At the same time, they made sweeping changes in graduation plans and the way accountability system results are reported.

Pardon the poor parents who might be a little confused about what to expect next.

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