Tuesday, December 01, 2009

I Love Texas But....


I'll admit I love the great state of Texas. I love the beauty of the varied countryside and the great expanse of sky that hosts the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets. I love the whole mystique of good guys like Sam Houston and bad guys like Bonnie and Clyde. And I love cowboys and farmers and ranchers who go to town on Saturday morning to have breakfast at the local diner.

But I do not like the absurd Texas Education system.

First off, they have this method of assessing the schools -- Texas Accountability Rating System -- that has less to do with learning than with statistics: How many students have dropped out? How many students passed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests? How many students are enrolled in AP classes? And one of the most important, how many students are passing?

To deal with that last issue, school districts began forcing teachers to assign a minimum grade to failing students regardless of their classwork and test scores. When the policy was first started, supporters said that it was good for the students. It would give them a better chance of improving the grade by the end of semester and the end of the year. That would in turn improve the self-esteem of the students and create a more successful learning environment.

Right.

What it did was help schools meet those statistical requirements.

There was enough protests from teachers, administrators, and parents, that a new state law was recently enacted that prohibits school districts from using this policy. A student is not to be given a grade of 50, if the work only reflects a grade of 30. Makes sense. A realistic grading system teaches students consequences as well as issuing a challenge.

I remember when one of our sons received a less than stellar grade in math the first semester of his senior year. If he did not bring the grade up to passing in the next six weeks, he wouldn't graduate. The teacher did not offer to give him a sympathy grade. My husband and I did not beg the school to bail our son out. We told him he would bring the grade up or else. And he knew what the "or else" would entail.

The latest installment of this silly school saga is that a number of school districts in and around Houston have filed suit challenging this new law. They claim that minimum-grade policies are good for students. "Minimum grading policies ensure that a student still may gain credit for a course as a whole and in turn continue progressing towards graduation...minimum grading policies for report cards are a key tool for keeping students in school."

Statistics anyone?

4 comments:

LuAnn said...

About 10 years ago, Washington state began the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test that was supposed to prove kids knew all they needed to know before entering the "real" world. The plan was that by 2008 all students had to pass the WASL in order to graduate. It was modeled after the Texas tests and it fell flat on its face. I reported on it for many years and I did actually see some of the advantages. The problem was it taught students in a different way than they had been learning all these years and parents balked because many of them couldn't answer the questions. So, indeed, they convinced their children they, too, wouldn't be able to pass and it became a vicious cycle. The battle raged on until 2007 when it became obvious that most of the students in the state weren't going to get their diplomas because they couldn't pass the WASL. At that point, it was pushed back for a few years. However, in the meantime, elections brought a new state superintendent who has thrown the WASL out and is working on a more reasonable testing standard. We will see how it all plays out!

Maryann Miller said...

Good luck with that, LuAnn. :-) As you may know from following the issue, Texas has revised their tests over the years, but it has skewed teaching in a way that I don't see as positive. Teachers and students have to spend way too much time focusing on the test; preparing, taking it, retaking it. That takes so much time away from learning.

Suzanne said...

I am substitute teacher in Frisco. Did you know that homework is now OPTIONAL in high school? I don't know how students are expected to learn without practice.

LuAnn said...

No homework?! That amazes me. Do they use a period or block schedule? That may be the difference.
Yes, Maryann, that has been a complaint of many parents -- too much focus on the test. I think what's been thrown aside that the kids will miss are the electives. Nothing much in the way of arts and music anymore. In fact, they even set aside science and history for a while while they focused on math, reading and writing. Fortunately, those subjects were added into the testing and found their way back into the classroom. It's really a shame. The kids need a well-rounded education to make it in the real world and over-testing isn't the answer.