Amid widespread anxiety among school leaders, parents and educators about how schools will meet the increased standards of a new student assessment system with reduced resources, Texas Education Agency commissioner Robert Scott touched off political controversy this week when he told a gathering of 4,000 school officials in Austin that standardized testing had gone too far in Texas.
In what many viewed as a surprising turnabout for Scott, he said that the state testing system has become a "perversion of its original intent" and that he was looking forward to "reeling it back in." The remarks, which mirrored those he made at a State Board of Education meeting last week, have been his most forceful on the topic since the last legislative session, when lawmakers slashed state funding to public education by $4 billion. The budget cuts have spurred at least four different lawsuits against the state from school districts arguing they have not received adequate funding to meet increasingly high state accountability standards
Scott, who received a standing ovation at the end of his address, also predicted that there would be a "backlash" against standardized testing during the next legislative session. But his comments, while popular with superintendents, have already provoked a backlash of their own.
Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said the commissioner owed lawmakers an explanation. 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."
The Texas Association of Business, the state's largest business group, took out a full-page ad in the 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, called 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."