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August 4, 2008 (512) 463-0300

SELECT COMMITTEE EXAMINES EDUCATIONAL ACCOUNTABILITY IN WEST TEXAS

(EL PASO) -- The Select Committee on Public School Accountability traveled to El Paso today, August 4, 2008. This is the latest in a series of meetings held across Texas and, in keeping with the other meetings, the members heard testimony regarding student performance on state-mandated tests and how those tests affect the students' overall ability to learn.

Senator Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso welcomed the members, saying part of their goal should be to align what is being taught in the schools with the skill sets that Texas industry needs.

Members mentioned how each hearing has been peppered with testimony complaining that there is too much testing. Instead, it was suggested that there is simply too much teaching to the test and that schools that focus on that method rarely do well on those state-mandated tests. Committee Co-Chair Representative Rob Eissler said that when school districts are held accountable to the test, they are bound to focus on it. Co-Chair Senator Florence Shapiro said "We are like Pavlov's dog, we respond to the need" and suggested that accountability of schools needs to go beyond simple test scores. Member Larry Kellner said that in the upper grades teaching to a test is not necessarily a bad thing, as the course material is exactly what is on the test.

Ross Weiner, of The Education Trust, was the first witness. He said that while Texas has made a lot of progress over the past fifteen years, much of it is due to the fact that districts have been held accountable and that schools have been helping groups of students that have historically performed poorly. He asked the committee to ensure that accountability is a system that helps students succeed, rather than one that protects the status quo.

Dianna Pieche, Executive Director of the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, testified that testing and accountability alone do not improve schools, that adequate resources, proper qualification, training and deployment of personnel, and finally greater choice for parents in selecting their children's schools are all essential parts of improving the education system, not only in Texas, but nationwide.

Brock Gregg, from the Association of Texas Professional Educators, spoke about a study done by their group. It showed that schools whose students performed the weakest on state exams usually had teachers that performed poorly in the classroom. He called for additional efforts to get the best teachers into the schools that need help the most.

Public testimony followed.

The Select Committee on Public School Accountability is Chaired by Senator Florence Shapiro and Representative Rob Eissler. Members include Senator Tommy Williams, Representative Diane Patrick, Education Commissioners Robert Scott and Raymund Paredes as well as public members Salem Abraham, Ronald Steinhart, Sandy Kress, Larry Kellner, Susan Lewis, Dalia Benavides, Dr. David Splitek, Dr. Thomas Randle and Beto Gonzalez. The meeting recessed subject to call of the chair.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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