In crafting a high-stakes testing and accountability system in 1993, the Legislature aimed to improve student performance and hold public schools accountable for graduating college-ready students. Certainly, those were lofty goals that proved beneficial for schools.

It's now time to upgrade the accountability system that has become so punitive and cumbersome that it is collapsing under its own weight taking down some urban schools and inducing fear and dread among many students and educators.

On Tuesday, education committees in the House and Senate will hold public hearings on legislation that would provide a needed makeover to state's accountability system. State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, have come up with proposals that would preserve accountability while lowering high stakes testing and punitive sanctions. They've got the basics right, and are open to changes in some of the details.

We would be remiss not to acknowledge the system's accomplishments. The accountability system for the first time publicized student performance school by school and district by district. It also stripped away barriers that hid performance of low-performing student groups, including African American, Latino and economically disadvantaged students who, as a group, trailed far behind higher-income, white and Asian students. The accountability system set standards for passing and for being promoted to the next grade, and consequences for schools that failed to meet those standards. And as the standards rose, so did high school graduation requirements. Those things truly benefited public schools.

Over time, however, it became evident that the system was too punitive, being based primarily on a single test the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). It's no wonder that teachers began teaching to the test and spent an inordinate amount of class time drilling students on basic TAKS skills.

The accountability system also was rigid to the point of fragility by holding all schools to subjective standards and ignoring progress and growth students made year to year. Even when schools and students made dramatic progress, they were deemed failures because they didn't hit the state mark. Meanwhile, high school graduation requirements, while going up, were not broadened to encompass a changing workplace.

Under proposals by Shapiro and Eissler, testing would continue, but no longer would be used to determine whether students are promoted to the next grade. Also, the focus would shift from schools achieving a one-time passing score in any one year to measuring students' academic growth (via testing) over three years to determine if they are advancing, stagnating or falling behind.

The measure also establishes "postsecondary readiness" as the goal for public high schools. That requirement establishes both college readiness and skilled work force readiness as the new goal for high schools.

What this bill does is inject common sense into the system without sacrificing accountability. It identifies problems with the current high school graduation programs and recognizes that Texas schools must prepare students for college, community college and the work force. This bill tries to satisfy those goals while maintaining rigor.

URL: http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/03/16/0316TAKS_edit.html

—Austin American-Statesman