Is this learning? A student works on a STAAR simulation test in 2016. Annual tests and letter grades are not the only way to evaluate student success. Photo: Lisa Krantz /Lisa Krantz

Does our state’s school accountability system reflect Texans’ values?

Every year around this time, schools across Texas shift their focus to test preparation and performance. But do parents, taxpayers and others believe this is what our schools should be doing? A new poll by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation found while much of the conversation between state lawmakers and the Texas Education Agency regarding school quality is focused on test performance, this may not be what Texans actually value most when it comes to public education.

When Texans are asked about the outcomes they want from schools, being prepared for tests is one of the least important indicators of school quality. What Texans really want schools to do is provide soft skills and preparation for career and college. In fact, the poll found only 37 percent of Texans express confidence that state standardized tests (commonly known as STAAR) effectively measure how well students are learning. Only 6 percent are very confident. This lack of confidence is backed up by research showing that poverty is highly correlated with state test outcomes. In addition, numerous readability studies done on the state’s STAAR tests would also indicate it is not a true measure of student learning and progress.

Given the information that school ratings are largely based on standardized test scores, 50 percent of Texans say they are not confident that these A-F grades accurately represent school quality. It should be noted that at the elementary and middle school levels, the STAAR is the only measure used to calculate a school’s letter grade. Interestingly, the poll also found that despite their lack of confidence, many see value in the idea of A-F ratings.

As educators, we see the many ways students demonstrate learning in our schools well beyond a once-a-year test. For instance, other important factors, like the use of project-based instruction, the number of students taking advanced courses, and the variety of and success in extracurricular activities, should be considered. These other metrics of school quality cannot be measured on a multiple-choice test.

A simple letter grade can tell us some of what’s happening in our public schools, but it can also mask specific areas for improvement and obscure the great things happening on our campuses. Just because some aspects of a high-quality school experience can’t be easily measured with a test does not render them invalid. This poll confirms Texans appreciate and expect a well-rounded education for their children. I believe our schools are providing this, and it’s time our system valued and reflected these same priorities.

Brian Woods is the superintendent of Northside Independent School District.

Brian Woods

Brian Woods

Superintendent, Northside ISD

Brian T. Woods is the superintendent of the Northside Independent School District. Woods was appointed superintendent in July 2012. Woods’s previous career experience includes working in the district as the deputy superintendent, the assistant superintendent, and a principal.