Commission studies future of student testing


Eduardo Montoya works on a vocabulary activity designed to help students pass standardized tests.
Eduardo Montoya works on a vocabulary activity designed to help students pass standardized tests. Special to the S-T

Texas has used a system of state tests to assess the performance of public school students for more than three decades — and we’re still trying to get it right.

Now a 15-member Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability has begun hearings to help decide what should come next in standardized student testing and other measures of how well our public schools are doing.

The commission, created by the Legislature last year and operating under a mandate to make recommendations to the governor and lawmakers by Sept. 1, is scheduled to hold its second meeting Tuesday at the Capitol Building in Austin.

If the results of the committee’s work go according to recent trends, those “next-generation” standards it recommends could further diminish the role of testing in the accountability process.

Pressure from parents and some educators in the past two legislative sessions has established a trend of reducing the number of tests students must take, the time each test takes, and the weight given to test scores in establishing school accountability.

Still, there’s a real need to measure school performance in ways that can help those schools improve. A report from the Texas Education Agency says that just 54 percent of Texas high school graduates in 2014 were ready for college work in both English and math.

Despite the state’s three decades of experience with testing, the 2015 session’s House Bill 2804 instructs the commission to start with a clean slate and determine “the purpose of a state accountability system and the role of student assessment in that system.”

Whatever testing regime the commission recommends is to aim at providing “actionable information” to parents, students, educators and the public.

Strict reliance on passing or failing scores is out. The new system is to “measure student educational growth toward mastery.”

And test results must “value critical thinking.”

The commission’s agenda for Tuesday’s 10 a.m. meeting includes time set aside for public testimony — but you have to be in Austin for that. Although meetings are set monthly through July, none are scheduled to be held outside Austin.

State Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, a Republican from Houston, was in Fort Worth and Dallas last week for public meetings to gather information for the commission.