Dallas Morning News
Jeb Bush: STAAR exams are logical, necessary next step
20 December 2012
Americans of all political parties, backgrounds and ZIP codes want and deserve a public school system that provides every child with the opportunity to reach his or her potential.
Academic standards and accountability add transparency to our public schools and lead to a better education for our children. Sadly, some Texans want to take a step backward by calling for the removal of transparency and accountability. The state must resist misguided, reactionary urges and work to provide each child the equal opportunity to succeed in life.
Education improvement cannot realistically occur unless schools measure what students have learned. About 30 years ago, Texas Republicans and Democrats, teachers, administrators, parents and experts worked together to create a system of academic standards and annual assessments of basic skills. The “Nation’s Report Card” reveals that Texas Hispanic fourth-graders read a grade level higher on average than their predecessors scored in 1994. Texas African-American students have made approximately two grade levels’ worth of average progress on the same exam.
Today, Texas educators and policymakers again stand at the edge, leading the nation by creating a system of end-of-course exams that move above and beyond testing basic academic skills.
Some do not seem to recall the severe disadvantages of a public school system without reliable data. As late as the early 1990s, real estate agents served as the most important judges of school quality, often guiding parents toward buying homes near “good schools.” Just what they based their judgments on is not entirely clear, as the schools at the time did not collect and publicly report data concerning the academic achievement of students.
Today, parents around the nation access state sources on websites like Greatschools.net to view a wealth of school data. They can compare academic results and read reviews of the schools written by parents. Parents can read about the focus and approaches of schools, then call them to arrange a visit in person to judge whether the strengths of the school matches the needs of their child.
The systematic testing of students and public reporting of data reveal our national educational challenges, like the achievement gaps based on family income and ethnicity. Policy analysts have been aware of this problem for decades, but the collection of school and district level data measured these issues at the local level. We cannot hope to provide anything like equality of opportunity for all students without an ongoing measurement of academic outcomes.
Today, Texas has the chance to lead again. Moving above and beyond the testing of basic academic skills, the new STAAR exams include end-of-course exams. This is a common-sense improvement to the Texas system of accountability and transparency.
If Texas taxpayers are going to invest in the classroom facilities and personnel to provide students with a physics or history class, it follows that they have the right to know how much students learned about physics or history.
The STAAR exams represent a logical and necessary next step for reform. End-of-course exams provide a deeper level of transparency across a wide array of subjects beyond reading and math.
The anti-accountability activists discuss ideas for improving schools, but ironically — without testing — lack a credible system of evaluation to judge whether they succeeded or failed.
Wrenching economic change and competition makes our need for an effective system of public schools greater than ever. Despite the recent economic difficulties, Texas schools spend far more per pupil today than they did in decades past. Greater accountability for outputs goes hand-in-hand with generous funding. If the adults in Texas will show the courage needed to usher in this new era of reform, Texas students will realize the benefits.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He may be contacted through excelined.org.