Texas Schools Chief's Remarks on Testing Draw Backlash

Robert Scott, the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, at a State Board of Education meeting on Sept. 24, 2010.
Robert Scott, the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, at a State Board of Education meeting on Sept. 24, 2010.

Some high-profile members of the education community aren't pleased with Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott's speech on Tuesday criticizing the role of testing in Texas public schools. 

Speaking to 4,000 school officials at the Texas Association of School Administrators' annual midwinter conference, Scott received a standing ovation when he called for an accountability system that measured "what happens on every single day in the life of a school besides testing day." He also said that he would not certify a ban on social promotion next year unless schools received more money from the state to offer remedial classes to students. 

Uncertainty about student performance on the rigorous new state STAAR exams has caused concern across the state as schools also grapple with a $5 billion-plus reduction in state funding that lawmakers enacted during the last legislative session.

"I think he owes all of the legislators an explanation of his comments," said state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, a chief architect of the legislation that created STAAR. Shapiro, the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she was "blown away" by the commissioner's remarks in light of his repeated testimony during the legislative session that schools would have enough money to move forward with STAAR. 

"That's a direction I've never heard him take," she said, adding, "He's been the one that's been talking about school accountability over the years. We've all been a part of this. School accountability is something we started many, many years ago, and we believe in it."

 

During a House Public Education Committee hearing last week on the STAAR implementation, parents and school leaders expressed concern about a lack of clarity surrounding the exams' various requirements, with some going so far as to ask for a delay in tests' consequences for students. 

But that will not happen without a fight. The Texas Association of Business, the state's largest business group, plans to take out a full-page ad in tomorrow's Austin American-Statesman urging lawmakers not to postpone the rollout of the exams. In an interview, Bill Hammond, the group's president and a fierce accountability advocate, blasted Scott, who also said the state's testing system had become a "perversion of its original intent."

Calling Scott a "cheerleader for mediocrity," Hammond said that the fact that the state was forced to reduce funding to education was not a reason to retreat on accountability standards for schools.  

"Every time we've gone through this, the standard has been met, and it has resulted in a better educated work force," Hammond said. "I do not understand Commissioner Scott's making excuses for the educators."  

The Tribune has made a call to Scott for comment.

 

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