The Dallas Independent School District plans to opt-out of some of its student assessments. Though it sounds good on first read and even speaks to the opt-out of standardized test-taking movement, in actuality, no mandated state testing is going away. The schools in the second largest district in Texas will dump roughly a third of their own self-imposed testing.
“We were just testing people to death,” said Michael Hinojosa, superintendent of Dallas ISD. He told the Dallas Morning News the district was making changes. Although the number of assessments students in the Dallas school district will take in the upcoming 2016-2017 school year will drop by a third, the mandated annual State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) “test isn’t going anywhere,” noted the Dallas paper.
“When we looked at the number of days we actually did assessments, and not instruction, it was overwhelming,” Hinojosa stated. “And a lot of those were self-imposed.”
Dallas ISD intends to shave a sizeable number of its district-generated and administered tests, mainly in grades K-8. This will eliminate 41 of 109 or 38 percent of tests known as Assessment of Course Performance (ACP) rolled out under the previous Dallas ISD superintendent, Mike Miles. He resigned in June 2015 amid much controversy, including a contentious relationship with the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees, which Breitbart Texas reported. He was also criticized for flat end-of-year STAAR scores.
ACP testing was designed “as measures of the taught curriculum.” A critique against ACP was it duplicated material covered and tested under the STAAR exams, which students must pass to graduate from high school, although, in 2015, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 149 — allowing students to graduate by passing three out of the five STAAR tests. The law also permits schools to form graduation committees that evaluate graduation eligibility, on a case-by-case basis, for students who have completed all of their required coursework but did not pass all five of their STAAR tests.
In Texas, the STAAR is mandatory, but only accounts for 15 percent of a student’s grade under updated accountability guidelines. ACP merely adds another layer. The self-imposed Dallas ISD testing system expanded in August of 2014 through the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI) to test twice a year in all subjects and grade levels.
TEI is a merit pay teacher evaluation program also implemented under Miles. It grades teachers and determines pay based on a combination of in-class evaluations factors such as test scores and student surveys. TEI relies on student achievement to gauge teacher effectiveness. ACP tests are one of the metrics used to assess such teacher job performance in Dallas ISD.
Burgeoning resentment of standardized testing and its role in tying student outcomes to teacher evaluations have bubbled up as an issue nationwide. A criticism of ACP has been that voracious testing takes away from classroom learning time. Concern also arose over ACP testing of elementary students, including kindergartners, in art, music, and physical education. By early 2015, parental backlash resulted in Miles slashing those kindergarten, first grade and second grade ACP tests.
Breitbart Texas reported that while testing proponents believe assessment results provide accountability snapshots that justify taxpayer dollars spent on public schools, opponents feel heavy testing only breeds a pressure cooker style of learning, fostering a “teach to the test” environment where no one learns anything other than how to take a test.
Hinojosa also plans to soften TEI metrics so that teacher evaluations will have two fewer required spot observations by principals and assistant principals. More campus administrators will oversee evaluations instead of “strangers,” the superintendent told the Dallas newspaper.
Approximately 160,000 students attend one of Dallas ISD’s 227 schools.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.