School Accountability: Reform or Retreat?

Last week, the Statesman delivered good news for Texas: STAAR passing rates jumped after a recent round of retakes.  This is a big win not only for Texas schoolchildren and teachers, but also for state policy.  The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) identified the students in need of a little extra help, and teachers provided additional instruction. Many of those students were then able to demonstrate proficiency. This is a familiar pattern for proponents of consequential accountability.  Since the rise of accountability in the mid-90s, younger students have improved a grade level or more in both math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  Unsurprisingly, the greatest gains have been among students who are traditionally underserved:  African Americans, Hispanics, and students with disabilities.  Before statewide assessments, these students could be conveniently hidden from scrutiny. The alternatives to a strong system of assessments and accountability – failing to identify these students or, if identified, to pressure schools to provide them assistance – are unfortunately well-known to Texans.  We did it that way for years.  Still, even before most committees begin their hearings, plenty of legislators would return the state to that old system or worse. The initial House budget zeroes out funding for assessments completely.  While contravening federal law might be expected from this crowd, it is an odd turn of conservatism when members...

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