TEXANS MUST BE PATIENT: HELP IS ON THE WAY

Apr 4, 2013 by

edcutsBy Donna Garner

4.3.13

 

 

I listened to the Senate Education Committee’s public hearing on various bills yesterday morning.  One of the first people to testify was Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams, and various responses between him and Sen. Dan Patrick occurred as they discussed the present high-school graduation requirements vs. Sen. Patrick’s SB 3 and SB 1724.

 

 

HB 5, SB 3, SB 1724 – DUMBING DOWN BILLS

 

Sen. Patrick tried to justify SB 3 by saying it increases academic requirements.  However, Tex. Ed. Comm. Michael Williams explained that presently only 20% of our high-school students elect to go into the least rigorous Minimum graduation plan because the default plan (the norm) is the more rigorous Recommended 4 x 4 plan (4 years each of English, Math, Science, and Social Studies).

 

Under Sen. Patrick’s SB 3, the Foundation plan would become the default plan (the norm).  This would undoubtedly result in a much larger percentage of students choosing to take only the Foundation courses instead of taking the more rigorous Recommended or Advanced (i.e., Distinguished) courses.

 

Sen. Patrick’s Foundation plan is only slightly more rigorous than the present Minimum plan. By allowing a large swath of our Texas high-school students to graduate under the Foundation plan rather than the more rigorous plans, we can expect the largest percentage of graduates under SB 3 to walk across the stage at graduation having a lower level of foundational knowledge and skills.

 

WHY WE MUST NOT LET OUR STANDARDS DOWN NOW

 

Right now, 80% of Texas students are in the Recommended degree plan; none have walked across the stage yet because they are presently high-school sophomores and freshmen.

 

Out of those students who have graduated under the “old” plan, only 48% have gone on to higher education in Texas.  Sadly, 30% of those have required college remediation.

 

It is for this reason that the SBOE working with the Texas Education Agency decided to implement the 15 STAAR/End-of-Course tests in English/Math/Science/Social Studies – to measure, show, and push toward better teaching and learning in these courses.

 

Like it or not, the fact is that high-stakes STAAR/End-of-Course tests motivate both teachers and students to strive for a higher standard.

 

If the legislature decides to gut these EOC’s in the four core courses (Grades 9 – 11), then how can we possibly believe that the educational level of students graduating from our Texas high schools will improve over what is occurring right now?  Presently less than half of our high school graduates go on to college (48%), and 30% of those require remediation before they can even get started receiving college credit.

 

THE WRONG DEBATE

 

A debate over Algebra II occurred at the hearing.  Sen. Patrick said he had heard that colleges/universities no longer consider Algebra II to be an indicator of college readiness. Comm. Williams said he had heard that rumor but had not seen anything definitive. Sen. Patrick asked Comm. Williams to gather data on this issue.

 

What the public and legislators need to understand is that the reason colleges/universities may have lost confidence in the Algebra II course is that the “old” dumbed-down TEKS (curriculum standards) have been in our schools since 1997.  The majority of students graduating under those standards (today’s juniors and seniors) most likely do not have the college-ready skills that they need.

 

The requirement for students to take Algebra II is not the problem; the problem is that the rigor in math all the way through school under the old Math TEKS (passed in 1997) simply has not been there.

 

TOO SOON TO BACK OFF

 

The new more rigorous TEKS (adopted starting in May 2008) and the more rigorous STAAR/EOC’s have not even produced any high-school graduates yet.  Only sophomores on down have been exposed to the more rigorous TEKS and STAAR/EOC’s.

 

If the legislature will just take their hands off the present New Plan (15 EOC’s, 4 x 4 course requirements) and allow it to go forward, the graduates who emerge from this year’s sophomores will prove that taking Algebra II, the other 4 x 4 courses, and the 15 End-of-Course tests have indeed elevated their college-ready/workforce status.

 

SAYING THE OBVIOUS

 

At yesterday morning’s Senate hearing, another discussion ensued over Pearson (the largest publishing company in the world and the producer of the STAAR/EOC’s).  Sen. Patrick asked Comm. Williams to produce data to show how many tests each year Pearson scores nationally and how much time each evaluator spends on each subjectively scored question.

 

 

Exactly!  That is why Type #1 TEKS are so important and why we fought to get Type #1 TEKS adopted by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) starting in May 2008.  The old Type #2 TEKS and TAKS tests were very subjective, and that is why teachers had to teach their students “to play the TAKS game” in order to help them pass those subjectively graded TAKS tests.

 

The Type #1 STAAR/EOC tests are a “different animal.”   These new tests contain a majority of objectively scored questions with right-or-wrong answers.  Subjectivity is a bad thing on high-stakes tests given at the state (or national) level because the value system of whoever evaluates the questions is an all-important and subjective factor.

 

 

On the new Type #1 ELAR-STAAR/EOC alone there are some 40 right-or-wrong grammar/usage objectively scored questions. This was not the case on the old TAKS tests in which much more subjectivity was the norm. The new, fact-based, academic, Type #1 TEKS have made it much easier for Pearson to create right-or-wrong, objectively scored questions; and this has cut down on the subjectivity in grading the STAAR/EOC’s.

 

PATIENCE NEEDED

 

Comm. Williams explained that the STAAR/EOC’s have only been given for one year (School Year 2011-12) and that over time, the teachers will adjust by increasing their own content knowledge so that they are able to raise the level of instruction in their classrooms.

 

The key word here is “patience.”

 

Parents need to be patient while the New Plan begins to take hold in their children’s classrooms.

 

Students need to be patient while they move steadily into learning more content knowledge at each grade level.  This in turn will eventually raise their academic levels so that the STAAR/EOC’s will not frighten them anymore.

 

Administrators need to be patient also.  After this year’s juniors have taken the TAKS tests, high schools will not have to worry about giving both the TAKS and the STAAR/EOC’s. By this time next year when this year’s sophomores and freshmen pass to the next grade levels, the New Plan will largely be in place except for the seniors IF only the legislature will back away from gutting what we who care about children and their future have worked ten years to accomplish – authentic education reform in Texas.

 

Legislators need to be patient and give the New Plan time to work. At this point only the high school sophomores on down have experienced the rigor and depth of instruction in the new Type #1 TEKS.

 

It would be a terrible shame for this group of Texas Legislators to go down in history as the ones who prevented Texas from leading the country in education reform.

 

Even worse yet, it would be a blot on these legislators’ heads if the colleges, universities, and the workforce in years to come were able to lay the blame for the downfall of the Texas economy on the 83rd Legislative Session.

 

Donna Garner

Wgarner1@hot.rr.com

 

 

P. S.  In listening to the Senate Education Committee public hearing yesterday morning, I heard Sen. Dan Patrick say that Sen. Van de Putte is going to come forth with an amendment to SB 3 that would make it a requirement for all high-school students to get an endorsement. Perhaps the legislators have begun to hear us on this one point…  (Please see “The Toxic Trio of Bad Bills: HB 5, SB 3, SB 1724” – 4.1.13 —  http://educationviews.org/the-toxic-trio-of-bad-bills/ )

 

*If CSCOPE had not slithered into our Texas public schools as an outgrowth of SB 6 (passed in the last legislative session), the education reform begun in Texas in May 2008 would have already elevated the academic achievement in our Texas classrooms.  However, because CSCOPE is Type #2, it has impeded the progress that was meant to be seen in our Texas classrooms by now.  According to the test results posted on the Texas Tribune website, CSCOPE schools did worse than non-CSCOPE schools on the STAAR/End-of-Course tests (2011-12 School Year)

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