While I agree that some state standardized testing is overdone, my views on testing and accountability are somewhat different from most other Texas superintendents and many members of the public.

Federal accountability:  Federal power over public education is NOT found in the U.S. Constitution — and should be reserved for the states (see the 10th Amendment). I believe the role of the federal government should be greatly reduced (as President Reagan believed). I admit there has been some beneficial federal intervention/funding in special education and in the area of civil rights. But even those areas are now ever-expanding and perennially under-funded.

State accountability: But I strongly disagree with those who want to eliminate or water down state accountability over school districts. I believe Texas SHOULD hold school districts accountable by comparing them on similar measures so it can be determined where each district stands. Many school folks want to completely eliminate state accountability and substitute a locally developed (“community-based”) system. That’s a veiled attempt to avoid comparisons and lower pressure on schools. While folks justify their views under the banner of “local control,” “community priorities,” and “deeper learning,” there remain basic achievement measures upon which ALL districts in Texas should be compared and held accountable.

Just as athletes, teams, and companies strive to be the best, so should all school districts. We SHOULD be compared on various student achievement and financial criteria. We should identify the best among us. And if a school district is awful and content to stay that way, the state should step in and exercise greater oversight.

I believe the current Texas accountability system is useful as a starting place. But it can better distinguish among districts in terms of the challenges unique to each. For example, when wealthy, educationally-advantaged Highland Park ISD students have high test scores, such results are rightfully acknowledged. But I would find quantifiable ways to honor most highly those districts with more challenging demographics that achieve miracles in relation to their realities. Give the more prestigious prize to the economically/ethnically diverse district that achieves far beyond what might be predicted. Reward those outliers!

Standardized testing: Yes, standardized testing in Texas has become overkill. I applaud the legislature action in 2013 to reduce the number of  high school STATE tests prior to graduation from 15 to 5. While the entire nation already uses the SAT, the ACT, and AP tests to assess college readiness, it was ridiculous to add 15 more. Compared to any other state, we had 3 times the number of tests required for graduation! But I do not agree with those who want to completely eliminate K-12 standardized testing. We do need valid measures for comparing every school district’s progress in each grade.

So some standardized testing is essential and provides a valid basis for determining whether students are mastering the curriculum in the academic core areas such as reading, math, science, and social studies. Although many disagree, I believe students should be tested, in some nationally comparable way, in all grades K-12. I say that a nationally normed, end of year test in kindergarten and succeeding years won’t devastate children nor confine instruction only to “the test.” There are various  existing national tests useful for these purposes. These include the existing College Board SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement, and K-8 instruments such as the California Achievement Tests. (By the way, current “No Child Left Behind” rules won’t allow  such national tests to satisfy federal mandates — hence federal funding would be withheld.)

Nationally-normed test results can be disaggregated (as Texas tests are now) by ethnicity, English language learners, economically disadvantaged students, etc. Also, progress measures can be incorporated whereby individual student scores are compared to the previous year results. All such factors can continue to be built into the state’s accountability system using national tests. That would save Texas BILLIONS of dollars and NOT require a rewriting of the laudable Texas curriculum standards (TEKS). And Texas would know more than we do now about how we stack up against the rest of the nation.

We need not spend the entire year worrying about standardized tests to the exclusion of everything else schools now do. The testing emphasis in grades K-10 should be on diagnosis and intervention — such that a good foundation exists before high school. We can build upon those basic foundational skills in reading, math, science, and social studies as we continue to enrich the curriculum in other subjects and activities.

So here is my  proposal for Texas public school accountability:

1. Test at least 90% of the students on math and reading in grades K-9 using already existing nationally-normed tests. (Incidentally, this would greatly upset Pearson executives, whose testing company is a Texas monopoly!)

2. Test at least 90% of the students in social studies and science at the end of 5th and 8th grades.

3. Test at least 90% of the student body in grades 10-12 on the PSAT, SAT, and/or ACT.

4. Test at least 50% of each year’s graduating class on one or more College Board Advanced Placement tests.

5. Allow school districts to exclude up to 10% of the students from standardized tests who are identified as having valid disabilities.  Making all such students take grade-level standardized tests is irrelevant and sometimes cruel.

6. Those who do not meet minimum graduation standards (as set by the state) on the PSAT, SAT, ACT, or AP tests can alternatively meet high school graduation requirements by successful attainment of rigorous career area certificates in various occupational fields. Such certifications would be earned in coordination with dual credit opportunities offered by community colleges and universities. Honor the hard training and occupations of the working man/woman! We need them more than society knows!

7. Use the Texas school financial accountability measures already in place. They are reasonable. These include the FIRST system, the FAST system, and elements of the TAPR. The TAPR already compares school districts on many different variables, including student achievement, completion rates, budget, staffing, taxes, etc.

8. Re-establish labels for overall achievement in school districts such as Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable, and Unacceptable. But use fairer formulas to assign such labels. Take into account the measurable challenges they face (such as demographic variables, funding levels, language barriers, etc.). Ensure that the least-wealthy school district in Texas has equal opportunity for commendation — as compared to “silver spoon” districts.

Perhaps I’ve upset some through these ideas. But I believe such a system would be fair, competitive, and a significant improvement over the current state of affairs.


  1. 1 Joe Redican December 10, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    I think that given the amount of money the federal government spends on education they have a right to require some kind of student testing that demonstrates the value they are getting from that expenditure. As for testing grades 10-12 there should be at least one test that all of the students take so that comparisons can be made. Happy with any of the listed tests just not with some taking one and others taking another.

  2. 2 Sherry Whitton February 16, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    Dr. Kelly, I couldn’t agree with you more. As I give this STAAR ALT 2 to extremely handicapped children I must say – WHAT A WASTE OF MY TIME, THE STATES FUNDING and THE CHILDREN’S EMOTIONS.

  3. 3 DYHedderick February 14, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    As an elementary educator, I don’t see enough emphasis of basic reading and math being pushed, but rather being shortened to make room for science and social studies at the primary levels. A teacher can expose students to science and social studies without evaluation, leaving more time for reading and math. If a student doesn’t have a basic knowledge of phonics and basic concepts of numbers and their relationships, they need to be spending more classroom time to learn them. Instead, we are trying to make them a “jack of all trades and a MASTER of NONE!” Students need to have a basic foundation of reading & math before moving onto evaluations in other subjects. You wrote, “Just as athletes, teams, and companies strive to be the best, so should all school districts.” Consider that athletes & teams can “bench &/or release” and companies can “demote or fire” if standards aren’t met, whereas public schools cannot get rid of a student! I vision “No child left behind” as a valid reason for retention, so NO child will be pushed through to the next level within the “normal/usual” time frame without being given more opportunity to learn and pass each level in sequence. If I put you and another student on an ice rink in a pair of skates with the same teacher, it may take you 2 years to master a single axle, but it may take the other student 1 year to master it. Does that mean I should expect your teacher or the ice rink to be penalized? Or should I push you through to the next level and expect you to attempt a double and triple axle, knowing failure is eminent without first learning a single? It would be to your benefit to allow you a longer time to learn that single axle before being you’re expected to master a double, even if it takes you longer that that other student. Think of the feelings of success mastering a single, rather than defeat from your fall after fall after fall, as the other student flies through a double axle! Modifications can be made if deemed necessary, and parent involvement is important.(If it takes a student failing a grade or two to involve parents, so be it.) “Throw more money” at a second chance for a student to catch up ! Our present interpretation of “No child left behind” is like: 100 students are in 1st grade. Three of these students are failing in reading and math. How many of these students will be promoted to second grade? The CORRECT answer is NOT 100, swishing ALL forward so none are left “behind”, like an incorrect subtraction problem. In another district I’m familiar with, a parent can over-ride a retention decision, even with a failing average. Districts need to have the backbone to be heard that this is wrong in so many ways! This robs the student that chance to learn the task and build self-esteem rather than feel failure more and more as they get further behind in skills and finally quit school. The current STAAR testing is never the same twice, so it’s comparing last year’s apples to this year’s peaches. It is not aiming to see if a student knows “X” amount of minimum knowledge from grade 4 to be successful in grade 5, but to see how many students are above average to well above average, causing those below the above average level to fail. We teachers can’t “teach the test”, but rather we try to teach them to recognize the style of the trickery in the questions, how to “read & decide” what it’s asking. I applaud your stance you take for Pearland, and am glad my grand daughters are part of Pearland ISD! Thank you for your time in reading this Dr.Kelly.

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