The countdown is on for a fight over how Texas measures learning.
“We have to prepare young people to be great students and have a love for learning. I don't think that what we are doing today fosters that to the extent that it should,” says Texas Board of Education Member Tom Maynard. “It's personal to me and it should be personal to every Texan.”
Maynard’s is just the latest voice in a growing chorus demanding legislator’s take a closer look at standardized testing in public schools. “I've been at this thing from a lot of different perspectives as a parent - as a teacher , as a school board member, as a trustee, and now as a member of the state board of education, and as the executive director of an educational youth organization,” he says.”
For two months Maynard listened to teachers from across the state who were in charge of administering the test. He says they're frustrated too. The agency in charge of administering the STAAR Test - the T.E.A. -admitting in late March - a problem with the online version botched some 14,000 exams. But they continued issuing the test the very next day.
“We put so much responsibility on a child, on an eight-year-old, a nine-year-old, a 10-year-old that it becomes overwhelming. Not to say what impact that has on teachers in school districts,” says Ken Zarafis, who spent more than a decade teaching at a middle school in Austin. He’s now the President of Education Austin, the union for Austin ISD employees, adding, “Because I don't think a test is a measure of a child, because I don't think a test is a measure of a teacher or a school. We opt my son out of it. We've opted out the last two years.”
“If you find a glitch in the system it really is the responsibility of the state to recall that test make sure it's right before you put it out on kids with such high stakes,” Zarafis says.
But there’s more than just a glitch causing problems. “You have a vendor that can't get assessment materials and confidential student reports to the right district,” Maynard sys outlining some of the complaints he’s heard, adding, “when there are deliveries that they can't get the address right - and boxes of confidential materials wind up at the local beauty salon or the local Walmart. Those things have happened.”
The issued detailed in six pages of notes given exclusively to FOX 7. It's from a meeting with roughly 40 testing coordinators who work in districts around Central Texas,
The list also shows some coordinators reporting being on hold with the vendor issuing the test, E.T.S., for as long as three hours. They also say the T.E.A. has “told districts things are their fault.” The group coordinators also say the T.E.A. hasn't given districts an actual breakdown on how many students had problems with the test. And that both E.T.S. and the T.E.A. Are being inconsistent in how they are telling districts to handle the problems.
FOX 7 asked Tom Maynard if he thought the T.E.A. was being transparent enough? “Probably not,” he says. “But in my experience and my conversations with Commissioner Morath, his heart and his passion is with the students. Until he proves me wrong I believe that he has the passion and resolve to correct it.”
“Where do you go to? Who do you say is to blame?” Zarafis questioning the system as a whole. “Because you want to be able to follow the path back to the source and then correct it. But there are so many sources that feed into this awful system. You have the state who established laws, you have T.E.A. who enforces it, you have E.T.S. or Pearson who creates the tool. You have a federal system that has put such weight on public education that you have to test.”
While the T.E.A. isn't requiring make-up test for the students who had problems. Some of those tests are required by the state to graduate from high school.
A mandate that Zarafis is firm should be changed. “I believe that we need to strive to find other ways in defining the strength and the quality and the work of our children.”
Student's won't be taking that single assessment again until the fall. But it's a safe bet this conversation won't be taking a break for summer vacation. Says Maynard, “Let's go back to understanding what our mission really is and let's find the solution that gets us a lot closer to that mission.”