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October 14, 2016
Dr. James Largnet
by James M. Largent, Ed.D.
In my third article for Make Education a Priority Month, I want to look at accountability.  One of the new education “reforms” that came from the last legislative session was the new law that every campus in the state would be given a grade of A-F.  According to politicians, this would be a way to let parents and our communities know how our schools are really doing in a language that they understand; because everyone can relate to a grade of A and how that compares to a grade of F.
So, let me ask you a question:  If you were taking 18 hours of college classes and at the end of the semester, you made five A’s and one F, would you consider yourself to be an A student or an F student?  This is the problem with the one-size fits all accountability system that we currently operate under.
In his book The Pitfalls of Reform, John Tanner asks, "What if someone in a position of power insists you build a building that is pretty much guaranteed to fall down, threatens you with losing your job if you don't build it, and after it starts to crumble, points to you as the source of the failure?"  In education, we have seen this process over and over again.  The state tells us our schools are failing, so they devise a test.  Over the course of a few years, our students prove they can pass the test at a high level, so the politicians say the test isn’t hard enough.  So, they devise another test – and this same process repeats itself.  They have devised enough tests now that our current system is supposedly “predicting” whether or not our third graders are on track to be college and career ready.  Really?  Don’t you think the motive is really to “prove” that we are failures so they can divert money to other places?
We have literally hundreds of classes, programs, projects, and experiments going on simultaneously in our schools.  Our students are coding computers, programming robots, building airplanes, taking college classes, and competing at the highest level in fine arts and athletics.  We are also preparing our students for careers when they leave high school with a multitude of technical classes and certification programs.  If you come to our campuses, you will see active classrooms with critical thinking, high level discussions, and real-world projects going on each day.  Our students graduate and attend the finest colleges and universities, military institutes, and technical schools in the country.
However, under our current accountability system, the bulk of our grade of A-F will depend on a once-a-year, multiple choice, bubble test that our students have to sit quietly and take for up to 3-4 hours at a time.  This test has been proven to be defective, not statistically significant or reliable, and graded by minimum-wage employees hired off the Internet.  The company making millions off this test cannot even guarantee their system will work when our students take the test online and also has a history of losing tests, sending them to the wrong schools, and grading them improperly.  Is this really what our campuses should be graded on?
Throughout the entire testing debate, we never hear about how poor the test is.  We never hear that we have spent well over a billion dollars on these tests over the past ten years.  We never hear that there are other proven, nationally normed tests that actually diagnose where our students are and what steps we should take to give them the assistance they need.  Most importantly, we never hear about the thousands of professional educators who work hard every day actually teaching students in a classroom.  If I were basing my knowledge of how well a student is doing in class, I will take the word of a professional educator who is with that student every day over the results of a one-time-a-year multiple choice test.
If politicians really want to see how well we are doing in public schools, they should rely on statistically reliable diagnostic tests that let parents know what level their child is on and ways to improve.  These tests should not be used to pit schools against each other by giving campuses arbitrary grades that have no meaning.  They should also come up with a system that tracks our students when they leave our schools – how many are graduating on time, going to college, technical schools, the military, or to meaningful jobs?  Aren’t those the numbers that really matter?
In our current climate of politics and public education in Texas, our focus, energies, and dollars should return to educating children rather than pitting us against each other.  Public education is the most important thing we do as a state.  We should all be working together to make sure we are doing the best job we can to prepare our future generation. 
Dr. Jim Largent is the Superintendent of Granbury ISD. If you have topics you would like for him to address in future columns, he can be reached at

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