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Possible Flaw in State Standardized Testing

Rune Mathisen/Texas Tribune

A UT professor has released research that could be a big problem for state testing.

Walter Stroup is a UT professor in charge of a pilot math program for middle school students in Dallas. The Texas Tribunewrites that Stroup and two other researchers have compiled studies on the TAKS standardized test, which they say demonstrates an error related to the statistical method used to assemble the tests – suggesting that the tests are essentially useless at measuring effective classroom instruction.

Education company Pearson has a $468 million contract to write the state’s standardized tests through 2015. It is also responsible for the controversial STAAR test.

The alleged problem seems to be more with the strategies of testing companies in general than with Pearson in particular. Stroup’s research show that “item response theory,” a system used to create standardized tests, focuses more on how it ranks students and less on what they learned.

Gloria Zyzkowski handles assessments at the Texas Education Agency. She told the Tribune in a statement that Stroup’s research has “fundamental misunderstandings” and that they need more time to look at the information presented.

Regardless, high-stakes testing remains a contentious topic. State Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, told the Tribune that basing more accountability “on the kid’s history than the specifics of what happened in the classroom that year may make us feel good but it doesn’t give us any true information.”

Stroup presented his findings to the House Public Education Committee in June. He is now preparing to give his studies to multiple research journals. 

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