Is This the End of Standardized Testing in Texas? – Part III

Design Elements for Assessment & Accountability

Accountability – The intent of accountability should be to positively affect the behavior of educators to accomplish a few key outcomes.

  • Educators need to be able to decipher what we want them to accomplish. The old accountability system was pretty clear: Texas wanted the lowest performing subgroups to have more students be able to demonstrate minimum amounts of knowledge in each subject. The new accountability system has four “indices” and a complicated way to calculate each rating. Local real-estate developers, real estate agents and title companies have remarked that the current accountability system is “meaningless” because they cannot understand it, much less explain to clients how a school earns any particular rating.
  • Expectations and consequences need to be fair. That doesn’t mean we should expect 100% of students to graduate college/career ready. In the early 1990s, when Texas first created a K12 accountability system, acceptable performance labels were awarded if only 25% of subpopulations could pass each subject area. The business community backed that low initial standard because it was actually a stretch goal at that point in time. As long as the accountability system increases its expectations each year, this is a reasonable approach. Unrealistic goals, however, do not motivate nor do they drive behavior. Educators will just see them as unfair and inappropriate.
  • We must ensure the system accomplishes worthy outcomes. 94% of Texans view earning a post-secondary degree as important and essential for a good job, according to last August’s WGU-Texas poll of 800 voters. Students who graduate college/career ready are six times more likely to graduate college. High school graduates who are college ready, regardless of whether they attend college, earn more than those who are not college ready. Let’s not just put any performance element into the accountability system because it can be measured.
  • Success expectations need to be spelled out far enough in advance so that education leaders have time to plan. In the current accountability system, the definitions for successful performance on tests are defined after students take them. Expectations for what is good enough to pass a test, or earn an acceptable rating, should be determined 16-24 months ahead of time so that school district Trustees can make budget, personnel, performance reviews, class ratios and other management decisions while there is still time to affect the outcome.
  • Consequences need to be taken seriously. If you set out fair, transparent expectations for an employee and he consistently fails to meet them, what happens? If nothing, it appropriately calls into question the whole system, reinforces the employee’s unacceptable performance and undermines morale for the higher-performers. Continuous low-performance affects our children and significant consequences should be applied. Further, unless you believe that the only form of accountability is parents “voting with their feet” to leave a school, Texas needs appropriate consequences.
  • Technology must be used to accelerate availability of data on critical outcomes. Currently, it’s nearly impossible to report on college readiness and college enrollment rates in a timely way, much less use such information in performance reviews for superintendents, principals, counselors and teachers. For the Class of 2015, the public still does not have final campus-level and disaggregated data on graduation, certification completion, college/career readiness and direct-to-college enrollment. Surely we can make graduation and direct college enrollment data available to the public no later than the October after May graduation?


This is Part III of a three part series.

Posted by Drew Scheberle, Senior Vice President of the Austin Chamber.



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Austin Chamber Hosts Inaugural State of Talent

The Austin Chamber held the inaugural State of Talent event this past Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at the Topfer Theatre in Austin. The content was geared toward HR professionals, recruiters, CTOs, educators, trainers, elected officials and student leaders.

2016 Chamber Board Chair Tony Budet kicked off the event by welcoming attendees and setting the tone.

State of Talent Tony BudetThen, Doug Gray, SVP of Indeed, opened the discussion of Austin’s workforce ecosystem with statistics about Austin’s current workforce demographics and where we still have gaps.

Next, Greg Garrison, Head of Global Software Engineering & Austin Site Leader at Google, gave a recap of his tenure as the Chamber’s Vice Chair of Talent. He stressed the importance of utilizing the workforce we already have in Austin and training them to meet the evolving needs of our employers.

Before the rapid-fire panel began, Mayor Adler joined the conversation to remind attendees that that Austin is growing because of its unique work and life opportunities. He also agreed with Garrison that we need to continue to find ways to employ current Austin residents.

State of Talent Mayor AdlerIn the rapid-fire panel round, we welcomed the following contributors to the stage:

  • William Coombes, Vice President, Head of Visa User Experience
  • Todd M. Fox, Garrison Commander, Fort Hood
  • Peggy Frazier, VP, Global Talent Acquisition & Onboarding, Blackbaud
  • Veronica Vargas Stidvent, Chancellor, WGU Texas

State of Talent rapid fire panelIn this segment, the Austin Chamber announced the new site – a tool for HR professionals, Austin employers, interns and job seekers to share and receive information about the workforce. We also recommitted ourselves to helping veteran talent find jobs with the Operation Austin job fair at Fort Hood and helping interns get connected in Austin with volunteering opportunities.ACOC-8084-LogoURL_CMYK_Color_croppedThere was a networking happy hour in the lobby of the Topfer Theatre following the discussions on the stage.

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For more photos from the event, see the Flickr page here.

Here is a sample of the social media conversation during this event:

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Chamber Annual Meeting Honors Graham, Volunteers

It’s hard to imagine what it was like in the late 1800’s to sit in the audience at the inaugural annual meeting of the Austin Chamber, then known as the Austin Board of Trade. No colorful PowerPoint presentations, touching videos or real-time social media posts. Throughout the years, getting to the meeting was typically easy. In 1914, for example, there were only about 1700 automobiles in Austin, though it’s not clear if finding a place to park was just as much of a challenge. The issues of the day have clearly changed, yet the Chamber’s role in shaping Austin and the region has been consistent.

In his message for 2016, recently appointed Chamber Chair Tony Budet summed it up this way.

“Central Texas desperately needs its talented business community at the table in order to develop socially responsible and affordable solutions that will be conducive to maintaining a strong economy,” said Budet. “That requires the ‘Voice of Business’ be heard clearly and forcefully on all significant issues. I hope you will join me in projecting a stronger, more influential voice FOR business and FOR the opportunities a vibrant economy can offer all.”

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About 900 local business and community leaders attended the 138th Annual Meeting, as well as elected and appointed officials, including congressional representatives, from the city, region and state. The meeting provided the Chamber with the opportunity to recognize its volunteers of the year. In addition to thanking the executive committee, board and staff for their support, Gene Austin, 2015 Chair, honored 11 local business leaders who provided exceptional community service in 2015.

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Austin also inducted Alan Graham as the latest Austinite of the Year, the Chamber’s highest honor. In his remarks, he pointed out three virtues that uniquely qualify the head of Mobile, Loaves & Fishes for the honor: giving back, entrepreneurship and inspiration.

“The chronically homeless are his passion, but his hand is extended for anyone in need. Alan also embodies the startup mentality that we love in Austin. He has a vision, rallies support, will not quit, and drives himself and those around him to results,” said Austin. “I have watched him raise money, deliver a spiritual message, and give a passionate speech about his brothers and sisters on the street. Each and every time, Alan Graham inspires me to do more in my life, and should you know him, no doubt, you will say the same.”

The Chamber board presented Mobile Loaves & Fishes with a $10,000 donation in honor of Graham’s efforts to end homelessness in Austin. This includes the unique Community First! Village, a 27-acre master planned community that is designed to provide affordable, sustainable housing for the disabled, chronically homeless in Central Texas.

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See more photos of the event on our Flickr page here.

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Is This the End of Standardized Testing in Texas? – Part II

Design Elements for Assessment & Accountability

In our last post, we discussed that the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability should set college/career readiness as its organizing principle. In this post, we will detail recommendations, compiled from the business perspective, on key design elements for the testing and accountability system.
What we test is different from how Texas holds education leaders accountable for results. Accountability is the system of consequences or rewards for meeting expectations. As you may infer, a statewide testing system is not particularly effective, nor purposeful, without clear rewards or consequences.

Assessment – What we should test and how we should do it.

  • The latest technology should be used to minimize paper testing. The Commission should solicit advice from leading software innovators which can largely eliminate paper testing, reduce costs, customize feedback and provide immediate diagnostic information.
  • College/career readiness content should actually be assessed. If college/career readiness is the goal, assessments should determine whether students have learned that college-level math, science and English content. The SAT, ACT and TSI do so; the Texas end-of-course assessments (STAAR) required for graduation assess only a small percentage.

Currently, the end-of-course system assesses only 10th grade English, Algebra 1 and Biology…well short of what research says a student should know to be college ready. As a result, the Texas Education Agency will be forced to rely on projection methods, similar to the discredited Texas Projection Measure, to estimate whether 9th grade students might learn more to become college/career ready in the future. Sounds convoluted, right?

Let’s just assess college ready content and take the guesswork out of it.

  • Assessments should determine what students master. For 20 years, Texas assessed whether students had mastered enough content in key subjects to be able to graduate. Some have argued it isn’t fair to require 11th graders to demonstrate Algebra I knowledge because they may have taken the course years before. If the point of Algebra I is to master the content, shouldn’t students be able to demonstrate they have retained it enough before they graduate and enroll in post-secondary education?

Let’s test students on college readiness before they go to college or the high performance workplace, not in middle school.

  • Results need to be timely. This spring, we have worked with Central Texas districts to acquire real-time ACT, SAT and TSI data for the Class of 2016. The data is student-level so that their teachers can provide them supplemental education, if they are not college-ready.

One purpose of assessments is to identify student learning weaknesses and put that information quickly into the hands of educators so they can help. ACT, SAT and TSI performance (with an analysis of a student’s strengths and weaknesses by content area) should be provided quickly and digitally to educators.

  • Success should be mandated. TAMSA has argued that state standardized tests, if administered at all, should only be diagnostic and should not have consequences. However, we believe that if key state graduation tests become voluntary, student knowledge will erode. Nearly 95% of the Class of 2015 who failed one or more “required” graduation tests was still given a diploma…how long do you think that message will take to get out to the Class of 2016 struggling to learn basic math, English and writing?

This is Part II of a three part series.
Posted by Drew Scheberle, Senior Vice President of the Austin Chamber.

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Is This The End of Standardized Testing in Texas? – Part I

Our kids must graduate college and career ready, for their future and ours.

The Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability met for the first time on January 20, 2016 to discuss the content a student should master and the consequence to educators if students don’t master it. The committee’s charge is to develop and make recommendations for a new state system of testing and accountability by September 1, 2016.

In 2006, the Texas Legislature followed the dictum “begin with the end in mind” and passed an omnibus bill to organize the public school system so that students would be exposed to the content they need to graduate college/career ready. Content and assessments from elementary to high school became vertically linked to that outcome.

Texas was the first state to organize its system around college readiness. This was revolutionary, but unfortunately, the system never actualized. In 2013, Texas abandoned ship when the 83rd Legislature significantly dropped course graduation requirements and dropped Algebra II, geometry, English 11, chemistry and physics content from state assessment.

“Is college readiness no longer a requirement,” asked Quinton Vance, member of the Next Generation Commission and Executive Director of KIPP Dallas-Ft. Worth.

No, it is not.

So, if we are not prepping our students for college and the high performance workplace, the Commission’s first order of business is to settle on what we are preparing them for.  If we cannot clearly and purposefully answer this question, then we are not doing our jobs.

The most important outcome of our K-12 public education system is that we prepare our kids, our students, our future – without remediation – for college and the high performance workplace.  Over 55% of open jobs in Texas in December 2015 currently require at least an associate degree. In Austin, that number is two-thirds of available jobs. If students are not graduating the public school system college ready, we are doing them a great disservice, limiting their income and opportunity and impeding the economic growth of good paying jobs in our state.

This is Part I of a three part series. The second piece will detail the design elements for a system that will prepare our students for college and the high-performance workplace.

Posted by Drew Scheberle, Senior Vice President of the Austin Chamber.

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