Representative VanDeaver had responded to the clamor for a better way to evaluate writing skills by filing HB 1164. This bill would have required districts to assess students’ writing according to the TEKS (state standards). Districts could chose the evaluation method, including implementing a portfolio program. Students’ performances on writing assessments would be reported to parents and in the aggregate to campuses and the State. High school students would have to demonstrate satisfactory performance on the district’s writing assessment to graduate. A STAAR language arts test would still have been administered, but the writing component would have been returned to the sanity of the classroom.
However, that sanity vanished when the bill was transformed in the Senate. Apparently, districts are not to be trusted with evaluating students’ learning. Although HB 1164 passed the House unanimously, the Senate Education Committee members substituted it whole cloth with new language. The new language not only leaves in place the current STAAR writing tests but also leaves the authority to even consider an alternate way to assess writing well centralized at the state level. The Senate-passed version of HB 1164 provides for a study and a pilot program. TEA is to conduct a study for a year on alternate methods to assess writing and then institute a two-year pilot program with select districts. The grading of any alternate writing assessment would still take place at the state level.
How very disappointing to us as parents and very frustrating to our students and teachers who have to bear the ultimate price of continuing to prep for the rigid 26-line STAAR writing tests!
TAMSA had joined many others in coming to hearings and testifying in favor of the initial version of HB 1164. Dawson Orr, superintendent of Highland Park ISD, aptly captured the need to replace the STAAR writing test when he earlier stated: properly assessing writing cannot be a one-time event and cannot occur with a 26-line limit. (Sen. Ed. Committee, August 26, 2014). The testimony of those most attuned to the impact of STAAR tests in the classroom had seemingly no effect on the Senators. Instead of concrete action to replace the STAAR writing test, the Senate chooses to spend state resources on another study. If they had been paying attention, they would know that we already have plenty of studies and research that offer alternatives for writing assessments.
We are quick to hold our schools accountable for our students’ learning. We need to be just as quick to hold our legislators accountable for the decisions that they make that impact our students’ learning. Legislators have recognized issues with the STAAR tests. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stated “we don't trust this test," and Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor noted "there seems to be some sort of disconnect between our test and real student capabilities." Yet, the Senators still want to hold students accountable in a punitive fashion for a test that leadership does not trust. Even if a study is desired, at least the high stakes should have been removed while alternative assessments were being considered. TAMSA urges that the primary focus of education policy should always be what is in the best interest of children. That focus is hard to find in the final version of HB 1164.
READ STATEMENT FROM REPRESENTATIVE VAN DEAVER
TAMSA-DEMISE OF HB 1164 (PDF)