Superintendent Terry Grier’s administration told the school board Thursday that HISD would scale back testing of students next year.
The plan to eliminate up to two weeks of testing at the start of the school year and to end a required spring semester test follows growing community pushback to the amount of time students spend preparing for and taking standardized exams.
“The first weeks of school, teachers should be teaching and getting to know their kids, not assessing, assessing, assessing,” chief academic officer Andrew Houlihan said after the board meeting.
HISD, however, will continue to offer “snapshot” exams for teachers to give students every few weeks at the end of lessons, according to Houlihan. The snapshot exams, also called “formative assessments,” will be optional, as he said they were this past school year, though many campuses required them.
The local advocacy group Community Voices for Public Education has been protesting over-testing for months, and an online petition to limit testing in HISD generated some 700 signatures.
After finding errors with some of the snapshot tests last year (see image to the right), Houlihan said a group of teachers would vet the exams this summer to weed out mistakes and make sure they are challenging enough. The district worked with Harvard University’s Education Innovation Laboratory last year to develop the tests.
Grier also asked school board members to weigh whether the district should continue to administer the national Iowa test to elementary and middle students. The test is supposed to allow HISD students to be compared with those across the country, but Grier and his staff said the pool was skewed because HISD was the biggest district administering the exam last year.
Trustee Harvin Moore noted that there were problems with the Iowa test this year, but said that as a parent he likes getting scores from a national, norm-referenced test, which ranks children’s performance relative to each other.
Another topic up for discussion: Should HISD relax its grade-level promotion requirements for elementary and middle school students? Texas law requires only fifth- and eighth-graders to pass state exams for automatic promotion. HISD reviews the scores for students in all grade levels. School board members asked for more data before delving into a serious debate on the issue.