Report cards will soon be delivered to Texas public school districts. Student scores on 2008 TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) tests will determine ratings under the state’s “accountability” system. Based upon preliminary TAKS results, Richardson ISD will be a “Recognized” school district for the third consecutive year.

This Recognized Three-peat is a significant accomplishment and warrants kudos to the entire RISD community. Other RISD TAKS-related achievements in 2008 include: (1) all RISD elementary schools rated as Exemplary or Recognized; (2) the number of RISD Exemplary campuses doubling from 2007; (3) results evidencing significant academic gains in all subjects, in all grades, by all RISD students; and (4) the number of Commended students (i.e., mastered the course requirements) continuing to increase. All this was accomplished even though the standards for passing TAKS tests continue to increase each year.

Special distinction was earned by the staff and students of Forest Meadow Junior High for achieving a Recognized rating for the first time. Lake Highlands Junior High fell just short of that rating, even though LHJH scores showed consistent improvement.

Once again, RISD is the talk of Texas. “How does such a diverse district perform so well?” Among the keys to success were: (1) district personnel set high expectations and fashioned strategies to reach those goals; (2) teachers continued to focus on the individual needs of each student; (3) students met challenges with increased confidence; and (4) parental and community support buoyed each campus. I hope that your pride in RISD mirrors the statewide admiration of Texas educators.

While celebrating RISD’s successes in the state accountability system, I am part of the growing number of people who advocate that the efforts of our students and staffs must not be measured by only standardized tests. Our state and national governments have unfortunately established a one-size-fits-all system that requires schools to “teach to the test,” rather than meet the needs of each student. I support accountability for public education, but snapshot testing is a misguided be-all and end-all criteria to grade our public schools.  

Today, the only stated measure of school success is the percentage of students who pass a test. A student’s growth, progress and improvement are omitted from the accountability system. For example, if a student scores a 30 on a test one year and improves to a 60 the next year, there is a single result — the student failed in the government’s eyes even though he doubled his score. Such misguided “accountability” ignores academic achievement and demoralizes students and teachers.

I am concerned that we have lost sight of our mission to educate children — to maximize students’ potential, to enable dreams, to provide opportunities. With these vision targets, schools would be encouraged to address the needs of each child, regardless of academic aptitude, socioeconomic status, or language issues. Austin and D.C., however, prefer to focus on testable subjects, diverting resources from fine arts, foreign languages and other programs that develop well-rounded, lifelong learners. It is time for common sense to carry the day and revise the current accountability system.

We should examine schools’ efforts in a number of areas, such as achievement in Advanced Placement courses, certification/licensing of students in career and technology courses, ensuring safe learning environments, and hiring high-performing staffs. Let’s set expectations for students’ “progress” in classes, whether it is the student struggling to pass a test or the high-achiever who is not fulfilling her potential.  

This discussion is long overdue, at the expense of our students, staffs and schools. Ask the candidates for state and federal office what they really want in public education — snapshot testing or lifelong learning? It is time to restore our value in learning how to learn, and developing students’ innovative creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

See you at school.