To graduate high school in Texas, students must pass 15 standardized tests. This is more than any other state in the U.S.
In addition to passing, kids have to reach a cumulative score by subject matter to qualify to apply to a Texas university. As you can imagine, this has not gone over well with parents. One group in particular is taking bold steps to reduce the amount of testing in Texas.
Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA), cofounded by parent and lawyer Dineen Majcher, has pushed for a bill that will ease the strict graduation requirements. If House Bill 5 passes, it will reduce the number of standardized tests needed for graduation from 15 to five. It has already passed the House and has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.
It was during the 2011-2012 school year when Majcher learned about the amount of tests required to graduate. Her daughter had just started her freshman year of high school.
"When I went to back-to-school night," Majcher says, "I had a teacher say to me, 'We're not going to have time to do projects because we have to get the kids ready for the STARR EOC exam.' "
This was heartbreaking for Majcher to hear. "We don't want kids who are good test takers," she says, "we want kids who are engaged, curious, and excited. We want them to find a passion they can pursue."
Majcher and the TAMSA parents aren't the only ones against America's high-stakes testing culture. This week, the issue was thrust into the spotlight after the news broke about the Atlanta cheating scandal.
Cheating allegations in Georgia's capital began in 2005, when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported there were irregularities in student standardized test scores. After a long investigation, Beverly Hall, the former superintendent of Atlanta public schools, and 34 other school district employees were indicted on charges of running the largest cheating scandal in the nation from 2005 to 2010.
Parents, teachers and the education community reacted strongly to the news, and many connected the scandal to over-testing in schools. Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Teacher Federation, recently said in a press release:
Tragically, the Atlanta cheating scandal harmed our children and it crystallizes the unintended consequences of our test-crazed policies. Standardized tests have a role in accountability, but today they dominate everything else and too often don't even correlate to what students need to know to succeed.
Lisa Guisbond of FairTest, a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to preventing the misuse of standardized tests, wrote on TakePart that "the iceberg looming beneath the visible evidence of cheating is a testing mania that cheats children out of a good education."
The effect of this testing mania, Majcher says, "is detrimental" and "changes the entire learning environment." Not only does it impact the way teaching occurs, she says, it is putting kids "into a cookie-cutter mold" where their individuality is ignored.
June 16, 2013 is the last day the Texas governor can sign or veto a bill passed during the regular legislative session. This doesn't give TAMSA and other House Bill 5 supporters much time to garner the support they need. However, Majcher is confident they can make it happen.