If It Quacks Like a Duck……………..
Every couple of years, our state legislature re-names critical aspects of public education in the great state of Texas. We don’t really even re-invent the wheel. We just slap a fresh and superficial coat of paint on it and call it something different. The latest session, ending in 2017, was no exception.
Our public schools now have a “new” accountability system known as A-F. Beginning in 2018, traditional letter grades will be assigned to every public school campus and district. In theory, schools will be given a grade of A, B, C, D, or F based on a series of indicators and performance objectives. In reality, our kids are still taking standardized tests and our schools are being labeled, in large part, by how well students do on those tests.
My fear is that this is nothing more than a camouflaged war of semantics. And yes, we have fought this war before. Just a few years ago, Texas schools were not rated with a mere letter of the alphabet but a term that was supposed to indicate academic value and worth. You will remember those terms; “Distinguished,” “Recognized,” “Acceptable,” and “Unacceptable.” Oh how our schools raced to be the first campus in the area with a banner that said “Distinguished” or a plaque which read “Recognized.”
We chased these arbitrary titles for years until one day it finally hit us. We realized we were doing little more in public education than teaching children how to bubble answers on a standardized test. One by one, brave superintendents, school boards, principals and teachers across our state began to stand up and declare that we will not play this game anymore. School districts passed resolutions declaring that it was time for the tail, which is standardized testing, to stop wagging the dog of holistically educating children. Yes, we will continue to take the tests and to help our students do their very best, but we will no longer be driven to be awarded one of the more desirable labels. For a brief moment in time, a renaissance of real education could be seen in many Texas schools.
Evidently, this stroke of common sense did not sit well with some in Austin. This trend had to be especially troubling to those who lobby on behalf of the standardized testing companies; a multi-billion dollar industry for whom Texas is one of the largest customers. Enter the A-F system. Proponents of the system are betting that most citizens will bow to peer pressure of semantics. Even though many of us came to realize that terms like “distinguished” and “acceptable” were really no prize to be won, those who crafted A-F are betting most communities will not be able to tolerate having a school with a failing grade. After all, we are familiar with letter grades. They have been a part of our lexicon for centuries. The supposition continues that the embarrassment of a poor grade will prompt constituents to immediate action to “fix” the local school.
Texans, we must demonstrate that we are not as naïve as some assume. If catering to the demands of testing was bad for children when we called it “recognized” or “unacceptable,” then it is still bad for children now that we will use letter grades of A-F. Once again, educators, trustees and parents must stand up and declare that we will not bow to the pressure to “make a good grade.” Instead, we must conduct our own assessments of our schools. We must routinely ask questions such as; “Do my children feel loved and accepted at school?” “Is my local school comprised of dedicated professionals who devote their time and energy to my child?” “Is my child afforded a well-rounded education that helps him or her grow academically, socially and spiritually?” “Will my children have the opportunity to pursue the life-path of their choice after graduating from my local district?”
It is time to once again refuse to accept the labels assigned to our local schools by the state; labels which are derived largely from standardized test scores. It is time to visibly demonstrate our pride in our local public schools and remind everyone that the overwhelming majority of our schools do an incredible job of educating Texas children. It is time to let our lawmakers hear from us concerning standardized accountably. We must let them know that the A-F system simply does not make the grade.
Superintendent of Schools
Apple Springs ISD