Senator Lucio's Letterhead

CAPITOL UPDATE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 11, 2008
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez , Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385

Return Teachers to Teaching Curriculum Versus Test Taking

Texas Public School Accountability System Needs Total Revamp

Although Texas is considered a leader in public school accountability, we must find a more comprehensive and user-friendly diagnostic system.

Remember when teachers taught and administrators facilitated learning? Not so anymore. Administrators statewide function as compliance officers rather than educational leaders, and teachers as drill sergeants rather than educators. Even school counselors spend more time administering tests than providing counseling and academic advising. It started a while back with good intentions.

In 1993, the Texas Legislature enacted statutes mandating the creation of a public school accountability system in an effort to rate school districts and evaluate campuses. Reforms included the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) that replaced the earlier Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills (TEAMS). In 2003, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test was administered, and thus the new accountability system began in earnest. School ratings using this newly designed system were first issued in 2004.

The TAKS was also in response to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, a federal law intended to improve America's public schools and accountability standards. To meet the requirements of the NCLB, the U.S. Department of Education in June 2003 enacted a plan, the Adequate Yearly Progress report (AYP), to annually evaluate all public school districts, campuses and state education as a whole.

Texas set goals to improve student achievement, increase the number of high school graduates and reduce the performance and high school completion gaps among student groups.

An unforeseen effect of these stringent mandates was a shift from educating and preparing our students for a global economy to a pursuit of achieving labels or displacing negative labels for their students and schools.

For example, at a July hearing in Brownsville of the Select Committee on Public School Accountability chaired by Sen. Florence Shapiro, we learned that while Brownsville ISD has 37 campuses rated exemplary or recognized, with two of their schools in the U.S. News and World Report list of best high schools, the district will still be rated academically acceptable, instead of recognized or exemplary.

Even more ironic, BISD is also one of this year's finalists for the Broad Prize for Urban Education, the nation's largest education award for which school districts must be nominated. Despite all these efforts, the district receives less funding per child than Austin ISD, Plano ISD and other districts.

We must fund our schools more equitably. During a 2006 Special Session, the Legislature directed school districts to reduce property taxes, decreasing local public school funding. The language in the Education Bill included a "hold harmless" provision to ensure districts were not hindered by the reduction in local collections and provided that the state would make up the funding difference. For hold harmless, the participation rate is recalculated for districts and campuses that do not meet the AYP participation standards, negatively affecting schools challenged by high poverty rates and English language deficiencies. The large funding discrepancies between districts often stem from hold harmless provisions. Sen. Shapiro and I both oppose those provisions.

The growing need for remedial education at institutions of higher education would be lessened through equitable funding of innovative programs that help struggling students prepare for college and the global economy.

We should better prepare our students for higher education and the workforce. Student desire to learn should be stimulated instead of stifled. We can help students achieve yet still find ways to lessen test-taking anxieties. High stakes tests can be emotionally challenging to students who are not good test takers.

No one can argue that accountability has worked to a certain extent, especially since minority student populations, particularly Hispanics, have shown remarkable improvements in reading and math scores, but a better assessment method is needed for all grades.

As BISD Deputy Superintendent and a member of the Public School Accountability Committee Beto D. Gonzalez tells us, "we welcome and embrace accountability." We can still accomplish our goals by developing a better system through support and proper recognition versus punitive ratings and sanctions.

With participation from our education community and parents, we will find the solutions that keep Texas in the higher ranks for accountability and raise our academic performance.

I concur with Mr. Gonzalez, that we have "both the responsibility and opportunity to ensure our state's public school accountability model is relevant, rigorous, and also fosters the learning climate needed for children to compete and prosper in the 21st Century."

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.

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