The Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, a 15-member team of appointees assembled for the sole purpose of recommending changes to student testing and public school accountability, stopped just short of suggesting the state scrap its year-end State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) and replace them with Common Core style exams.
On Wednesday, the commission met in Austin to review the final draft of their report, which recommended replacing STAAR with a competency-based learning and computer-adaptive assessment system. However, members pulled back and removed a line from the report that read these tests should “replace the current STAAR assessment program.” They reframed that particular suggestion as a future goal, saying many schools do not have the technological infrastructure to support such a system, according to the Texas Tribune.
“Replacing the entire STAAR system with a computer-adaptive (test), that’s really more of a long-term vision,” said commission member Kim Alexander, superintendent of the Roscoe Collegiate Independent School District. The Austin American-Statesman reported he said: “While that is our eventual goal … if we move that to a long-term recommendation, it might be easier for the legislators to gain consensus on it.”
Computer-adaptive tests (CAT) or tailored testing differs from multiple choice standardized testing because it adjusts question difficulty based on a student’s ability to provide correct or incorrect answers. To do so, it tracks data to accommodate these adjustments. Among the criticisms of CAT are that it only tests to one’s ability and that the tests are psychometric-based, which means it may have the elements of a questionnaire to learn more about a student’s personality or beliefs and values.
Additionally, CAT is the style of testing used for Common Core tests administered by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Texas rejected the Common Core State Standards.
Overall, the commission’s report was telling, fueled by a general dissatisfaction with standardized testing, likely exacerbated by the mishaps of the 2015-16 STAAR. Breitbart Texas reported testing season was fraught with endless issues from disappearing test responses to missing test scores, the unexpected results following a switch in the state’s test vendor service. In response, Education Commissioner Mike Morath lifted the reading and math testing requirements for fifth and eighth grade students — some who might have otherwise gone to summer school or had to retest over the summer because they failed STAAR tests during the school year.
The report actually made nine key recommendations. Besides long-term goals of competency-based learning and CAT, the commission suggested streamlining state education standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills (TEKS), “to create a manageable number of content standards to be taught in a school year.” Another recommended aligning state and federal accountability systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the next generation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) “to ensure that the results are consistent and share common goals.”
The panel also suggested recognizing student progress over achievement and accountability “gap” metrics. They supported allowing the education commissioner to approve locally developed writing assessments and limiting standardized testing to “those TEKS that are most critical to student success.” The report called for using SAT, ACT, AP, IB, Aspire, and other national college-readiness tests as the competency barometer. These tests are aligned to Common Core standards. The commission would like the “state” to pick up these college-entrance exam fees.
Commission members voted 9-to-1 to approve their report, with five other members absent. The lone “no” vote came from Theresa Treviño, president of the activist group Texans Advocating for Meaningful Assessment (TAMSA). Although she agreed with many of the report’s recommendations, she disagreed with maintaining the STAAR, noted the Tribune. Treviño said the report did not address her main concern to recommend removing fifth and eighth grade requirements that students must pass the reading and math STAAR to move onto the next grade, or the requirement that high school seniors must pass five end-of-course STAAR exams to graduate.
However, in May 2015, Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 149 that afforded high school seniors to graduate with only passing three of the five tests. Breitbart Texas reported the law allowed schools to form individual graduation committees (IGC) to evaluate student graduation eligibility on a case-by-case basis for those who completed all of their required coursework, but failed one or two of the state mandated tests. The commission recommended making IGCs permanent.
In November 2015, Texas officials named 15 appointees to the Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, brought to life through the passage of House Bill 2804, authored by outgoing state House Education Committee Chair Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen). He also championed the state’s revamped 2013 College and Career Readiness Standards (HB 5).
The commission was created to make recommendations for existing and/or new systems that measure student assessments and public school accountability to Texas lawmakers. Members met over a series of six community conversations across the state from January 20 to June 13. They must deliver their final report to the governor by September 1, although these recommendations are not binding. The short-term commission dissolves on January 1, 2017.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.