CVPE parents and students speak to HISD school board about high stakes testing

Missed the board meeting on May 14? Parents, teachers and students from across the city-Hispanic, African American, Asian and White, middle class and working class- spoke out against high stakes testing in board testimony.

Fifty CVPE parents, students and teachers waited 5 hours to hear seventeen members speak to the HISD board about high stakes testing and opt out. We demanded an end to the use test scores to evaluate teachers, an end to excessive benchmarking and an end to the use of STAAR as a promotion standard beyond what is required by the state.

HISD Board Meeting video of CVPE testimony is here at the Hearing of Citizens Part 2 of 2 starting at minute 26:42. Most of the written testimony is also below.

KHOU interview here.

Claudia Deleon, parent (slightly different oral testimony)

Respected Board Members,
I am Claudia deLeon, and we are CVPE.  I was the first parent to opt out last year and now we are 80 African American, White, Hispanic and Asian families we span economic and social classes and are from 8 of the 9 School Districts.  We want to partner with Houston ISD to improve our schools.  We want the district to lend an honest and open ear to the concerns of your constituents.  Instead, we received a heavy handed letter filled with unfounded threats and factual errors.  Our reasons for opting out are as varied as we are but all of our reasons are symptoms of the high stakes nature of the testing system.  We ask that the district: end the use of standardized test scores for teacher and principal evaluation, end the requirement for STAAR for promotion in grade levels not mandated by the state and live up to the commitments of the TAMSA resolution they signed in 2012, and reduce the test prep culture of endless benchmarking in HISD and we are here to tell you our stories


 

Carolyn Melgar, parent

As an HISD parent, I’ve witnessed the leadership abilities of the Board’s majority.
It’s led the way in teacher turnover. In the last 3 years, HISD has lost 50% of its teacher, 26% in 2013 alone.
It’s led the way in teaching to the test. HISD students take up to 30 practice tests in a year.
It’s led the way in writing developmentally inappropriate tests, causing student burnout. Third-graders are responsible for fifth-grade mathematics instead of being exposed to art, music and physical education – all of which help promote brain growth and improve academic ability.

Tonight, I’m asking you to take your leadership in a new direction. To review your data and concede this is in fact, not the way. To stand up and say, "This is not working."

It takes vision, determination and most importantly, courage to re-chart your course when your ship has lost its way.

HISD's high-stakes testing policy is the perfect storm damaging public education and injuring our administrators, our teachers and our leaders of tomorrow. Our schools are the wreckage left behind.

Ending STAAR as a promotion standard beyond state law,

Ending use of test scores for teacher and administrator evaluations,

Drastically adjusting the curriculum requirement to reflect developmentally appropriate skills,

And allowing for meaningful instruction which fosters authentic learning environments

Are good first steps to redirecting this ship.

It's time for HISD to be the courageous captain it can be and re-route this vessel.  Thank you.


Anisha Thornabar, student

forthcoming 


Joe Sears, parent

Good evening.

My name is Joe Sears. I am an educator in my 10th year of teaching, and a former HISD social studies teacher. In the summer of 2013, I was recognized for excellence in AP World History teaching and participated in Dr. Grier’s AP Initiative for Curriculum Design. 

I am also the parent of two students in HISD. I am speaking to you tonight because I recently chose to opt my 3rd grader out of STAAR Reading and Math. As a teacher who has experienced STAAR firsthand, I know only too well the harm it causes students, teachers, and schools. As I parent, I watched my child grow increasingly anxious about STAAR after winter break. He was regularly worried out loud about being able to move to 4th grade if he failed. “School’s not fun anymore, Dad,” he said to me near the end of March, “The teachers are worried, the kids are worried, I’m worried… It’s all about the test!As a teacher, I am opposed to the high-stakes nature of STAAR. I am opposed to the way it is used to appraise and punitively rate teachers. Furthermore, I am deeply concerned about the fear and intimidation that accompanies STAAR, and the “testing culture” it creates in our schools. As a parent, I know that my kids--and all Texas students--deserve better. Thank you.


Christine Diaz, parent

Revised since Good evening. My name is Christine Diaz. I have a daughter in 3rd grade in HISD and this year was introduced to the failures of high stakes testing. All that high stakes testing does is teach kids to think inside a box. There is no room for creativity and brain stimulation. It is so sad that kids don’t have time to talk about current issues, world problems, or debate hard questions because that type of thinking is not on the test. Superficial thinking is needed to take high stakes testing.

I read that school districts can spend as much as $500 million on testing. It is frustrating to think all that money spent on testing when many schools don’t have a librarian, arts or music programs, sufficient playground equipment, or can’t offer electives to high school students. These things are basic items all schools should have.

I am happy to see that an “opt out” movement on high stakes testing has started across the nation and right here in Houston and the state. And for those who think only suburban white parents care about this issue, think again. Parents will not stop opting out of the STAAR test. This will only happen if HISD leadership changes board policy regarding the STAAR test. If things do not change there will be many more parents opting out next year.


Lurice Anderson, parent

forthcoming


Dee Treviño (written testimony is slightly different than oral testimony)

My son is currently a 6th Grade Student in Spring Branch ISD. This summer we are moving to an HISD zone to accommodate my work schedule. As a working parent we have to make prudent decisions for our family's future. Family economic factors limit the educational opportunities available to us and other families. We want to support schools in our community, as opposed to driving 30 minutes to another district to seek what we know can accommodate working families. I understand HISD unlike Spring Branch implements STAAR testing differently than our current district.

My son opted out of the Mathematics portion of the STAAR test and at no point was there a complaint or concern from my principal or school district. In fact, our school administrator understood our family's concerns with high stakes testing and accepted our opt-out letter. Spring Branch ISD is an example of a true partnership with parents and we would like to see this model of support in our home district which will now be HISD, unless this district is not willing to support good students and parents and forces us to seek transfers elsewhere.


 

Donna Reid, parent

My name is Donna Reid. I am a parent and a former HISD teacher. I have a doctorate in education and I serve on the board of the School Reform Initiative—a national organization fiercely committed to educational equity and excellence. 

As a researcher, I applaud your espoused value for basing policy decisions on evidence, but the evidence that is piling up against high-stakes testing has been systematically overlooked and ignored.

Using student test scores for teacher merit pay is particularly dangerous because it interferes with the relationship between a teacher and his or her students. Special education and English Language Learning populations are especially burdened by these policies.

My family did not opt-out for ourselves. We opted out to give voice to students who are being pushed aside and teachers who are being pushed out. 

Please weigh ALL the evidence and quit using these tests inappropriately for teacher compensation and student promotion.


 

Gabriela Melendez, student

written testimony forthcoming


Ann McCoy, community member

Although state law requires that 5th and 8th grade students pass the STAAR for promotion to the next grade, this is bad policy. The link between in-grade retention and dropping out of school is well established in the research literature. Retaining children in grade places them “at risk” for school failure.

What does the largest district in the state do?

HISD decides to become the only district in the state to inflict this bad policy on 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 7th grade students in doing so HISD increases the number of “at risk” students in the district and the state. With decisions like this, HISD guarantees that Houston will continue to have a steady stream of drop outs in the future.

Unfortunately, the bad decisions and poor choices don’t stop there. HISD became the first district in Texas to use STAAR scores to evaluate teachers. Another bad policy choice, that has been denounced by the Educational Testing Service, the American Statistical Association, the National Research Council, and a host of well-regarded researchers. These researchers and their colleagues have concluded that “the extent to which [EVASS and other value added models] reflect the contribution of teachers, rather than other factors, is not understood.”

Deciding not to consider the long-term consequences of implementing policies that are detrimental to students and teachers represents the willful and intentional infliction of school failure on students, teachers, parents, and taxpayers.


 

Debora Banner, community member

As you know, the Texas Education Agency has declared that the Math STAAR test will not be used for school accountability and has prohibited districts from using the test results for student retention/promotion decisions this year, due to the extraordinary changes in the math curriculum. The TEA has decided that it would be unfair to do so, and has removed the high stakes associated with this test at the State level.

Houston ISD should remove the Math STAAR results from teacher evaluations this year as well.  If the TEA has deemed the test unreliable and invalid for students and schools, it should not be used to assess teachers.

I urge HISD to reconsider the use of tests to make high stakes decisions of any kind.  The American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education have stated that these tests should not be used to make high stakes decisions.  This year you have an opportunity to at least not compound the problem by using a flawed assessment which the State has said cannot be used to assess students and schools to make high stakes decisions about teachers.  


Jennifer Guerrero, student

written testimony forthcoming


Claudia Rios, parent

written testimony forthcoming


Roberto Mejia, parent

written testimony forthcoming


David Landry, uncle and community member

My name is David Landry. I went to elementary, middle and high school years in the Houston & formerly North Forest school districts. I earned my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Saint Thomas.

I worked for ten years in the education system for programs such as Upward Bound, AVID & Project GRAD & now work as a financial aid counselor for the University of Houston Downtown.

While I was in school, standardized testing was not the end all, be all for us. It was simply a means to an end. Now, since the TAKS, STAAR and many other benchmarks later, standardized testing has become the ruler of the day.

I find it detestable as a tax payer, voter, and  future parent that I have to worry about whether or not my child’s future will be determined by a high stakes test. The STAAR test for children as young as 8 is deciding a their fate- whether they are promoted or not, labeled as "bad" or not...forever. This is not what I want for my children.

I also find it horrifying that my child’s competent, impactful educators will be in jeopardy of losing their livelihood, because of test scores. 

STOP HIGH STAKES TESTING NOW!


 

Shilpa Sarang, teacher

written testimony forthcoming


 

Anne Sung, former teacher and community member

This opt out movement is an intervention for a district we love but whose addiction to high stakes testing is harming our children and holding us back. Community Voices for Public Education asks you, our trustees, to take action.

First, end the endless benchmarking and snapshoting and DLAing.

Second, end the use of STAAR as a promotion standard in grades 3, 4, 6, and 7. Other districts only use STAAR in this way for grades 5 and 8, as mandated by the state.

Third, end the statistically invalid use of test scores to evaluate teachers.

Fourth, as have the boards of Katy and CyFair ISDs, call on the state to end high stakes assessments unaffiliated with federal requirements.

Our children cannot wait. This opt out movement will continue to grow, and we will continue to intervene until this board takes action to break our district’s dangerous, damaging addiction ot high stakes testing.

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