In 2013, as parents began to become more vocal about the outrageous emphasis on standardized assessment, and the time it was taking away from real learning, the Texas Legislature took notice and took the first baby steps toward rolling back the punitive STAAR assessment system that lobbyists with no education experience had ramrodded through in the previous session. The number of EOC assessments was lowered. Third grade promotion exam requirements were removed. And the legislature, for the first time, put limits on the schools continual use of practice assessments to prep students for the STAAR. Districts were strictly limited to two benchmark (practice) assessments per subject during the school year. While arguably this is too much, since, if the assessment truly measures content mastery and not test taking ability, test taking practice should not be needed, it was a start. Parents could relax knowing that students wouldn’t face benchmarks every 3 or 6 weeks as had become common.
But, alas, legislators apparently put too much faith in the ability of school administrators to follow the law. Worried over punitive performance reports based on STAAR results, schools decided that they would comply with the limitation on benchmarks, not by cutting back on benchmarks, but by renaming all of them that exceeded the two permitted by law. Now, a basic premise of law is that we look to substance not form.
The Texas Classroom Teachers Association immediately noted that “Some districts have simply renamed the benchmark tests (e.g., “cumulative formative assessments”) and continued to schedule more than two during the school year. Some districts are adding additional benchmark questions to other tests. At least one district tests students with a “Curriculum Based Assessment” (CBA) up to three times before giving a benchmark assessment.” The American Federation of Teachers put its members on alert to report “whether school districts will comply with the letter and spirit of this new law or will try to play games to evade it—for instance, by relabeling their test-prep tests as something other than “benchmark” tests.”
In Houston, former teacher Shadah Srrivers noted that students will take as many as 30 district mandated practice assessments, now relabeled as “snapshots.” And meanwhile in Denton, the practice of renaming benchmarks has been documented by a parent boasting of their child’s success.
If you enlarge the photo, you can see that the student has been given a form labeled “My Benchmark Scores” The form shows that Benchmark 2 (the maximum allowed) occurred in December. But in February, the student was administered a “STAAR Simulation.” This is an overt, unabashed violation of state law, and nobody cares. Parents, please contact your senators and state reps and let them know that school districts should follow the law as well. File grievances with your local school board the minute your child takes a third benchmark. Substance matters. Cute tricks like renaming your benchmarks are of no effect whatsoever. Don’t let the schools tell you otherwise.