Davis Calls for Reduced Emphasis on Standardized Testing

Texas Senator and Gubernatorial candidate, Wendy Davis during an education rally in Austin on April 14th, 2014
Texas Senator and Gubernatorial candidate, Wendy Davis during an education rally in Austin on April 14th, 2014

*Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from a spokeswoman for Greg Abbott.

In her fourth education reform proposal, Democratic gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Wendy Davis says she wants to reduce the weight standardized testing carries in the state’s education system and emphasize more local control of educational accountability measures.

In the proposal, which was announced at San Antonio College on Wednesday, Davis indicated that she would direct the Texas Education Agency to revamp its state accountability system to consider “quality of education” metrics, rather than only focus on test scores. Her plan also calls for local alternatives to standardized tests to give school administrators and parents more control of the frequency and types of assessments used in local school districts.

"Teachers know that a student's success is measured not by one test on one day, but by growth over the year,” Davis said in a statement. “My proposal will help ensure genuine local control that empowers schools to teach more and test less.”

Davis, who in 2011 filibustered to try to block $5.4 billion in spending cuts lawmakers eventually made to public education, has attempted to make education a key issue in the governor’s race. Though some of those funds were restored in 2013, Davis said in her latest policy proposal that more action by state lawmakers is needed to reform the current education system. She vowed that she would designate “standardized testing as an emergency matter for priority consideration by the Texas Legislature” to make schools “more than test-prep factories.”

 

Davis’ proposal to redesign TEA’s state accountability system draws from a bill she filed in the 2013 legislative session that would have revised the Texas Education Code to include teacher retention and class sizes as school performance indicators. She also said she would sign into law legislation that would create alternatives or review current testing models, including House Bills 2824 and 2836, which were passed by the Legislature last session but were ultimately vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry. The bills would have allowed the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium to pilot an alternative accountability system with parent and teacher input and would have required exams at lower grade levels to be reworked so that most students could complete them in two hours or less, among other mandates.

Davis’ proposal comes after weeks of hammering her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, for language in his early education policy proposal that appears to call for the biannual testing of pre-kindergarten students to tie additional funding to academic outcomes.

The Abbott campaign has said his plan does not call for standardized tests, and that “suggestions to the contrary are absurd.” But Davis has continued her attacks, saying that Abbott's plan flies in the face of concerns by parents and educators about the state's reliance on standardized testing.

Abbott spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said Davis' plan imitated Abbott's latest education policy proposal, which he revealed last week. It calls for providing school districts and parents with increased control of students' education by tossing out state mandates and regulations.

"Parts of Sen. Davis’ plan read a lot like a Cliff’s Notes version of the policy proposals Greg Abbott has been promoting for months, except hers lacks any substance or detail," Chasse said. "Greg Abbott's plan ensures genuine local control that gets away from the one-size-fits-all mandates that have been imposed by Austin."

Davis has indicated that she would direct TEA to challenge the “most draconian provisions” of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind, which she says comes with “rigid” regulations that leave school administrators wary of losing federal funding if they do not follow student accountability guidelines under the law.