Monday, March 4, 2013

Beyond Standardized Tests: Legislators' Attempts to Revamp Texas K-12 Curriculum

With the advent of No Child Left Behind, high stakes testing took root as a K-12 education policy enacted into federal law.  In the past decade, many groups have criticized the policy of using high stakes testing, which includes President Obama’s Race to the Top program, to drive improved student performance.  Critics have asserted that an education system rooted in student performance on standardized tests skews the learning process toward rote memorization and away from critical thinking.  In addition, critics have questioned whether standardized tests truly measure what a student has learned and whether cultural or language differences among students may vary student performance outcomes.

Members of the Texas legislature have filed bills during the current legislative session to reduce the amount of standardized tests that K-12 students must complete.  Part of these initiatives stem from complaints about the STAAR testing regime that replaced TAKS testing.  The STAAR includes end-of-course exams that are included in a student’s GPA in high school, a change from the earlier testing regime.  Grading changes are only a part of the change in statewide testing.  The STAAR tests include more difficult questions overall. 

One might assume that the many critics of high stakes standardized testing would welcome the proposed laws by the Texas legislature to reduce the amount of tests given to students.  However, these proposals have also included changes in high school graduation requirements.  Currently, Texas has a “4 x 4” model that requires math, science, language arts, and social studies in all four years of high school.  The proposed legislation would allow students to choose electives to replace some of the “4 x 4” core classes.  Proponents of these changes argue that a more flexible curriculum would help students to begin taking classes to further their career goals at an earlier stage in their education. 

Some critics of the proposed legislation assert that reducing graduation requirements overcompensates for the rigidity of high stakes testing.  While fewer high stakes standardized tests would arguably allow for a well-rounded education system that rewards several types of learning and skills, critics of the proposed laws assert that the ills of teaching to the test can be removed while still keeping a rigorous curriculum at the high school level.  Enveloping curriculum reform inside testing reform may have unfavorable consequences overall, outweighing any benefits of reducing the weight of standardized test scores. 

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