Meanwhile in Texas…La Marque gets a reprieve–A Rant

Several months ago, the Texas Education Association announced that the La Marque Independent School District would be dissolved due to poor performance. The La Marque community responded and last week, a conditional reprieve was granted.
I’m happy for the people of La Marque. I can’t claim to be an expert on the schools, but during my week there in 2012, it was clear that many good things happen on the high school campus and the school is worth saving. That said, the method LMISD must use to “prove” their worthiness to the state of Texas is disappointing, if not surprising.

From the official release: “If…student scores on the standardized tests meet the academically acceptable rating threshold and not the lower Improvement Required marker — the school district will remain in operation for the foreseeable future.”
In Big and Bright, I strongly endorsed the Texas model of extra-curricular activities. My focus was football, but other athletics, the arts, marching bands, and drill team are also outstanding. With the nationwide trend away from well-rounded, comprehensive education, it is wonderful that, in Texas, excellence is taught by a broad range of activities and that Texas schools do strive to offer things almost any student can get excited about.
But, as good as Texas extra-curriculars are, it is likely the nation’s worst when it comes to reliance on high-stakes, standardized testing. Much worse than my home in Nevada where, as a teacher, I saw the effect the slow creep of increased testing has on schools.
When effectiveness is measured by such a superficial and easily-manipulated method as test scores, everything else is tossed aside. Arts, industrial arts and athletics budgets were slashed in order to achieve better test numbers. If a non-testing teacher (PE, arts, shop, music…) retired, the position would often be dropped and the allocation would be used to hire a reading or math specialist. When my last high school was built in the 60s, an entire wing was devoted to industrial arts. The building had a woodshop, metel shop, auto shop, architectural drawing room, ceramics room and electronics room. The boys’ PE office has room for five teachers… When I left, ALL of those programs were gone and I was the only PE teacher in that office. By then, one administrator at each high schools only real responsibility was the raising of test scores.
This would be fine if tests truly reflected student growth, but students are people, not machines, and their future success will be dictated by things much more substantial than test scores. By focusing on the tests, true education is sacrificed.
I’m sure these sacrifice have already begun in La Marque. Likely, class time will focus entirely on test-taking skills. In English, literature and creative writing will be scrapped for more grammar and spelling. Wherever possible, non-tested areas such as arts and athletics will be asked to sacrifice their programs to help save the school. This isn’t the fault of the good people of Le Marque, they don’t have a choice; this is the game the state of Texas requires them to play. The effort may or may not help them achieve the required score…I hope it does. But, between now and the testing very little education will take place in La Marque.

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