An important board meeting going down tonight. What parents and community need to remember is that the 15% rule is just one element of the larger system. There is no research that shows that this will facilitate greater learning and college readiness. In fact, universities and entire systems (e.g., University of California) have done away from relying on standardized assessment performance in admissions decisions.
What proponents of the 15% rule (which you can count on one hand) are actually doing is contaminating the most significant research-based indicator that we know helps to predict how students will perform in college: GPA.
February 13, 2012
Even before the state education commissioner began questioning Texas' emphasis on testing and the effect on teaching, districts had started backing off plans that would made the state's new standardized test count toward students' grade-point averages and class rank.
Now, officials in Austin, Manor and Pflugerville said they will take another look at policies on how to incorporate the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness into a student's final grade. Ninth-graders start taking the end-of-course exams next month.
The STAAR is replacing the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, and districts across the state are grappling with how to handle the new rules. Lawmakers have required the STAAR to count as 15 percent of the student's grade in each course, unlike the TAKS, but did not spell out how to do so. Instead, that has been left up to individual districts.
Some, including the Eanes and Round Rock districts, have already said they will calculate the STAAR as part of the final grade that appears for the course on a student's transcript but said that final grade won't be used in calculating a student's GPA or class rank, which is what colleges will focus on.
In Texas, being among the top of the class guarantees admission to all state universities.
On Friday, Pflugerville officials said they may make changes to previously approved policies that called for including the exams in factoring GPAs and class rank.
Manor Superintendent Andrew Kim, in a reversal from his recent testimony before state lawmakers during a hearing on the exams, said this week that he also will reconsider.
"Originally, we had been somewhat strong about adding it in," Kim said. "But after looking at the tenor of what's out there ... and with this all possibly being reconsidered in the next legislative session, we figure it would be easier to (leave it out now and) add it in later on."
The Austin district has polled parents on four possible ways to include the STAAR in student grades. All the options would affect class rank. But under pressure from concerned parents — and after noting what neighboring districts have done — several Austin school board members have said they'd also like to reconsider. Austin trustees plan to discuss the issue at a meeting tonight.
Critics say school districts are taking a risk in trying to get around a new state law that clearly intends to strengthen school accountability.
"When a high school sends a transcript to a college, they recalculate the GPA," said Drew Scheberle, senior vice president for education and talent at the Austin Chamber of Commerce, one of several business organizations that have been standing by the switch to higher standards based on college readiness.
"So while Westlake is trying to be cute about this, what they could end up doing is (they could) give the wrong impression to their students," that the tests don't matter, Scheberle said.
The districts are wrestling with the issue as state education Commissioner Robert Scott indicated he now thinks testing has gone too far.
At a Texas Association of School Administrators meeting in January, he said that the state testing system has become a "perversion of its original intent" and that he was looking forward to "reeling it back in."
As for how the districts decide to factor the test into student grades, he said the call is not his to make.
"State law is very clear," Scott said in a statement. "I do not have the authority to issue a uniform grading policy for Texas public schools. Our education system is based on a presumption of local control by elected school boards. In short, my office has been given no authority to override the decisions of local school boards on their grading policies and the applications of the end-of-course exams to a student's grade. An attempt to do so would only invite litigation that would cause further confusion.
"The law creating the 15 percent grading policy requirement was passed by the Texas Legislature in 2007. Two additional regular sessions have occurred since then, and lawmakers have not changed the grading policy provisions. I understand the situation may be causing confusion, and I look forward to working with lawmakers to sort this out in the next legislative session," he said.
Of particular interest here to Scheberle and others who support the changes is where districts are setting minimum scores for the end-of-course exams. Austin's proposals vary, from 50 to 69.
The lowest grade Georgetown students would get would be a 69. Pflugerville has set the minimum score at 60.
"A student should not be able to hand in a blank test and get a 60 or above," Scheberle said. "Regardless of the law, it demoralizes the other students who are working hard, who do try, and it's not fair to those students. It's cynical and against the aims of education, which is to learn."
Pflugerville officials said the process has been difficult for administrators to explain to parents.
"We're responding to I think a lack of information," said Deputy Superintendent Keith McBurnett.
He added that the whole idea of tying the assessment to students' grades perhaps needs to be delayed, if not reconsidered. There's no indication the state would do so.
"The assessment is high stakes enough. It counts toward graduation," McBurnett said. "It seems to me as I've watched the dripping out of information, the best solution would have been to at least delay this another year and have all the information in place."
While Scheberle disagrees the test should not be tied to grades, he said he does think Scott could have done a better job communicating with districts and parents about the new tests and grading requirements and preparing for the more rigorous exam.
"He had 5½ years to prepare and he's not ready, so now he's blaming it on other forces," he said.
Scott declined an interview with the American-Statesman.
Scheberle said the purpose of the accountability system is to make sure students are ready for college and career, adding that the system currently doesn't do enough to meet the demands for highly qualified employees in Central Texas.
"We have 55,000 unemployed here, and many of them have less than an associate's degree," he said. "It's hard for us to grow jobs if we don't have college-ready graduates, and this commissioner being squishy (on improving college readiness) isn't helping the situation."
Kim, the Manor superintendent, said he supports Scott's comments about testing being taken too far and feels that there are other ways for students to demonstrate knowledge. Manor has started several classroom initiatives in which students demonstrate learning through projects.
"I am a very big proponent and supporter of accountability and how it helps us improve education, but I do feel there are alternative ways to assess rather than just the one way we are looking at now," he said. "This whole debate has shown how there is this uniqueness to having local control.
"I think the issue now is for the first time the state has kind of created a bridge toward state assessment and local control of grades, so what does that bridge look like? We feel that if the bridge does exist, then we want to do what is the very best for our kids in terms of motivating them to do well."
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Central Texas districts vary on handling of new end-of-course exams
The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness is replacing the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Lawmakers have required the STAAR to count as 15 percent of a student's grade in each course but did not spell out how to do so. Instead, that has been left up to individual districts.
District Affects GPA? Affects class rank? Minimum score Notes
Austin Pending Pending Pending Asking parents to choose among four options that would set minimum scores
between 50 and 69. Final decision expected by March.
Del Valle Yes Yes Pending Officials seeking public input on how to count exams toward grades.
Dripping Springs Yes Yes Pending Officials said no further information was available.
Eanes No No 67 Exam grade will appear on transcripts.
Georgetown Yes Yes 69
Hays Pending Pending Pending Officials are reviewing options and hope to have a decision in March.
Hutto Yes Yes Pending Officials are deciding between a minimum score between 0 and 60.
Lake Travis No No Pending A final decision will be made after spring break.
Leander Pending Pending Pending Administrators are recommending that the exams not affect GPA or class rank.
Manor Pending Pending Pending District is looking at setting a bottom score between 60 and 69.
Round Rock No No 60 Students will get separate ‘class grades' and final grades, so that GPA and
class rank will not be affected.
Pflugerville Pending Pending 60 Administrators are waiting for more information from the state on passing standards.
San Marcos Pending Pending Pending Administrators are waiting for more information from the state on passing standards.
Source: Area school districts. Not all responded to requests for information.
The Austin school board will meet to discuss end-of-course exams and naming a new early childhood development center, among other things. 6:30 p.m., Carruth Administration Center Board Auditorium, Room B100, 1111 W. Sixth St.