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HB 5 Passes, but Number of High-Stakes Tests? Still High

Rune Mathisen/Texas Tribune

When Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 5 this week, it signaled that the waves of complaints from parents opposed to high stakes testing, had caught hold. But one irony is that most people — even most journalists — still don’t know the actual  number of test students take.

The federal No Child Left Behind law was modeled after Texas. No Child requires seven tests, but Texas' requirements make the federal standards look quaint.  Before this week’s bill signing, Texas students were taking 15 end-of-course tests—at least that’s the number you hear. HB 5 reduced that number, appropriately enough, to five.

But the “15” tests that everyone talks about? Well that number completely ignores elementary and middle schools. “So the end of course exams are only secondary exams," said UT researcher Julian Vasquez Heilig. "There’s a whole other battery of tests that these kids take, grades three through eight.”

Students in grades three to eight have 17 tests that the legislature left untouched. So, until this week there were 32 tests, total. Now there are 23—right?

Well, not exactly. Let’s talk about “benchmarks.”

A benchmark is sort of a rough-draft of the high stakes test that comes later in the year.  A pre-test, if you will. It’s a district decision, but in Austin Independent School District and many other Texas districts, benchmarks are given for each test, twice a year. So that’s 51 tests, from grades three through eight.

As Heilig puts it, “What we do know is that in many schools almost a quarter of their year is taken up in testing. So that means they’re often taking tests, to test, if they’re ready for the test. So clearly that is a very poor use of our classroom time.”

I'm a freelance writer for the Austin American Statesman and others.