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May 22, 2014

Superintendents publicly criticize state testing

DALLAS —  Several Texas superintendents have publicly criticized the state's standardized testing system ahead of next week's release of statewide scores.

Paul Jones, superintendent of the Paris school district in northeast Texas, said in a recent letter to parents that the tests known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness reflect a "punitive, one-size-fits-all" system.

Superintendents in the Dallas suburb of Coppell and the East Texas towns of Longview and Van also recently sent letters to parents critical of the mandatory testing, The Dallas Morning News reported (http://bit.ly/1tpk78H ).

Statewide STAAR results for grades three through eight are scheduled to be released next week.

Critics of the assessments have argued that preparing for STAAR, including a concentration on test-taking strategy, has hurt classroom teaching.

"Our students are much more than a once-a-year pencil and bubble sheet test," Jones wrote to parents. "Your child means immeasurably more than just a number generated in Austin. There is no test that can assess all of what makes each child unique."

Paris has been challenged over the state tests in recent years; fewer students passed most of the exams than the state average. But Jones said his letter was not an effort to downplay any further disappointing scores.

"We're going to celebrate if we blow the roof off those tests," he told the Morning News. "But we know that's not what it's all about."

Coppell Superintendent Jeff Turner said the fact that superintendents feel free to publicly disparage the state system reflects a broad criticism by many groups.

"The fact that he can get away with writing something like that without being called down by (his school) board or community just shows that he is reflecting the feelings of the parents," Turner said of Jones. "He won't be the last to write it."

In his own letter to parents last month, Longview Superintendent James Wilcox wrote, "Success cannot be measured by what happens during a mere four-hour window in a stress-filled environment."

In an effort to temper criticism, the Texas Education Agency last year modified the way it rates public schools.

The ratings take into account more than just the STAAR standardized tests, which make up the first of three indexes to a school's rating. The others include student progress on those tests, the school's pace in closing the performance gap for disadvantaged kids and the student's readiness for life after high school by looking at graduation rates and scores on college placement tests.

 

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