This is the third post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.
At issue: Education in the 21st century has been dominated by standardized testing. The enactment of state and federal accountability laws, including the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, resulted in the growth of an entire business industry surrounding tests. Testing and rating schools based on students’ standardized test scores have become the primary mandates in public education. Schools that fail to meet accountability targets tied to test results face harsh sanctions, which exacerbates anxiety around the high-stakes nature of the tests. Many districts have tied teacher pay and bonuses to test results, and now the federal government is insisting on more reliance on test score data in evaluations of teachers and principals.
The overemphasis on standardized testing is a costly problem: The testing explosion has necessitated more government spending on:
- Developing, field-testing and administering tests.
- Buying test prep materials.
- Remediation programs for students who fail the tests.
- Administering pre-test “benchmark” assessments at the district level.
- Training for staff.
- Investigations of testing improprieties.
- Hiring of additional personnel needed to administer tests, analyze results and create intervention plans based on those results.
- And so much more.
Over a two-year period, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) spent nearly half a billion dollars on a contract with test vendor Pearson and was criticized in a state audit for not implementing proper quality controls on the contract. Make no mistake: Testing is big business, especially in a state as large as Texas, and the vendors that profit off testing do not hesitate to make large campaign contributions to candidates who will support the policies that keep them in business.
Progress has been made, but more must be done to address the “test, test, test” approach that is still holding our classrooms hostage to standardized assessments: If you read the Survey Response section of the candidate profiles on Teach the Vote, you’ll see that most candidates believe there is still too much emphasis being placed on testing in schools. The 83rd Legislature was forced to answer the outcry from students, parents and educators over too much testing. They passed House Bill (HB) 5, which greatly reduced the number of required state tests at the high school level, but they were not able to alleviate concerns about standardized testing in grades 3–8. A bill to reduce benchmark testing in those lower grades passed the Legislature unanimously, but was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry. Most incumbent legislators supported another bill that would have allowed some students who achieve satisfactory scores on STAAR tests in certain grades to skip the exams in some other grades; that bill was derailed by conflicting federal regulations. There is still work to be done at both the state and federal levels to alleviate elementary, middle and junior high schools from the intense pressure of relentless testing that interferes with real, high-quality instruction.
Your vote in this primary election will help determine the future of testing in Texas: Let’s elect legislators who will fight for the integrity of classroom instruction and not bow to pressure from big testing companies or the federal government. Search our candidate profiles to see what your candidates have to see about the role of testing. Vote early (through Feb. 28) at any polling location near you, or vote at your assigned polling place on primary election day, March 4. Either way, be sure to vote in this critical primary, since so many election contests will be decided in March rather than in November.
 Senators Brian Birdwell and Dan Patrick were the only legislators who voted against HB 866 in 2013. Enter your address in our 2014 Races page to view your incumbents’ profiles and their voting records on testing and other major issues.