Protesting pro-testers

While speaking before 4,000 school officials at the Texas Association of School Administrators’ midwinter conference, Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott said that standardized testing in Texas public schools has become a “perversion of its original intent,” according to The Texas Tribune. Scott received a standing ovation when he described personal frustration with the bureaucratic complicity evident in schools today as a result of the current testing mechanism. School testing is lauded by legislators from both parties, and Scott’s honesty is a refreshing counterpoint to voices that repeatedly try to address ineffective testing with more testing.

Scott’s remarks elicited a distancing, surprised response from state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. “That’s a direction I’ve never heard him take,” Shapiro told The Texas Tribune. “He’s been the one that’s been talking about school accountability over the years. We’ve all been a part of this. School accountability is something we started many, many years ago, and we believe in it.” Shapiro, the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, was at the forefront of the legislation that developed the new STAAR test and will soon leave the Legislature to work for a company that advises public universities on converting existing courses into online ones. Shapiro made a career out of tethering successful education to testing, and her reaction highlights why Scott’s position is so different than the status quo among lawmakers.

STAAR will make Texas students’ testing performance a substantial component of their final grade. Over the past few decades, each successive incarnation of Legislature-set public testing has pushed these standardized tests higher on the list of priorities in Texas public schools. As the middle ground shifts correspondingly, Scott’s “Hey, wait a minute” is a needed check on a testing fervor that may or may not be productive.