By Alex Elizondo, CEO
As the Texas Legislature convenes, we expect public education debates to include issues related to how we measure student academic success as well as school quality. While our legislators engage in these discussions, we call upon them to do so with a commitment to long-term student success. While testing in this moment can seem burdensome, it is the measurement piece that comes from these tests that matters and is much needed at this time.
Assessing student achievement and school quality: enables school leaders and educators to make data-driven decisions around instructional and resource allocation, empowers parents to make choices that suit their child’s needs, and informs community support around schools.
Testing to measure students, not punish schools
The state’s decision to pause school ratings this school year, but keep student assessments, was right. The modification to forgo A-F school ratings this year was needed because of the widespread disruption due to COVID-19. Further, measuring students’ academic progress this school year, to best know how to target needed resources, is even more critical now that COVID-19 has upended the lives of many students and families across the Houston area.
However, these temporary modifications needed to account for the pandemic should not be cemented long term. Abandoning meaningful measurements of student learning and school quality beyond this school year – and amidst one of the greatest challenges to public education in our lifetime – places school quality at risk and will further exacerbate the existing student achievement gap. Any notion that Texas should weaken our system of assessments and accountability – where here in Houston only 37% of students are proficient in reading by 3rd grade and over 50% of young Houstonians are attending schools rated C, D, or F – will only set more students in our community further behind. There has always been, and there will continue to be, controversy related to how we measure schools and students. We recognize that no system is perfect. However, for Houston public schools to best educate every child, in every neighborhood, it is necessary that we assess school quality to understand how our students are academically performing each year.
A means to ensure equity
Maintaining a commitment to academic accountability is critical to ensuring every child of every background is served justly by our public school system. Some have incorrectly characterized the role of assessments and accountability as punitive devices. In reality, there are examples of schools and school systems across the Houston area that use these tools to make constructive progress that recognizes the hard work of educators and rapidly improves school performance.
Because our state’s accountability system is transparent, outcomes-driven, and consequential, Aldine ISD’s leadership was able to accurately identify specific areas of need in a district of nearly 70,000 students. For example, at two of the district’s lowest performing elementary schools, a comprehensive plan for improvement was put into effect. The results are astounding. Students at Worsham and Goodman Elementary Schools grew three to four times more than their district elementary peers in reading and math.
We believe it’s imperative our state continue to support an academic accountability system that holds the highest standards possible for students and supports school leaders in making rapid improvements in school quality for the students who depend on them most.
A challenge we must overcome
There are those who may argue that requiring students to take state tests is logistically difficult during the pandemic, and we agree. Yet it’s a challenge we must and will overcome through the ingenuity of educators and our collective will as a state because the stakes couldn’t be higher. Effective educators know that student assessments are key to determining what and how to teach students to ensure their success. Yes, educators shoulder a significant responsibility in educating our children. But, the notion that this responsibility means that school quality should not be measured is a false choice.
Schools exist to promote student learning, and we must find ways to ensure students are receiving a high-quality education and that teachers are equipped, empowered, and supported to receive what they need to be most effective. At the end of the day, school ratings are not meant to be punitive in nature. Instead, the school’s community must be able to categorize school quality and determine what student supports are needed.
The Houston of tomorrow depends on our ability to create a world-class public education system today. Doing so requires our state’s leaders to support a system that measures student achievement and holds the highest standards possible for our public schools. Every Houston parent should send their child to school each day confident that they are safe and affirmed, learning the skills Texas requires, that colleges and universities prioritize, and that the workforce demands. But even more than that, parents must know that when their child graduates from a Houston public school they are ready for a productive, choice-filled future of limitless possibilities.
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