Next up on ‘Overheard,’ standardized tests

Any Texan whose children have been educated in the state’s public education system is well aware of the endless stream of standardized tests dating back to the mid-1980s.

We’ve had a veritable alphabet soup of exams established over the years. There have been TEEMS, TAKS, TAAS and now, STAAR tests to gauge whether our kids have learned enough essential skills to graduate to the next level and eventually enter the working world as productive adults.

Evan Smith, editor in chief of the Texas Tribune, and host of “Overheard with Evan Smith,” is going to take on the issue of standardized tests with Diane Ravitch, a public education advocate, historian and research professor at New York University; Ravitch also served as an assistant secretary of education. The next segment of “Overheard” airs at 8 p.m. Thursday on KACV-TV.

Standardized testing became the vogue after passage of House Bill 72 in a special session of the 1984 Texas Legislature. HB 72 sought to revolutionize public education by making the state, in the words of Dallas billionaire businessman Ross Perot — who headed a special task force to recommend the changes — at least as interested in education as it was in high school football.

Perot slammed the state of public education in the 1980s and was challenged by then-Gov. Mark White to lead a citizens blue-ribbon commission to make recommendations on how to improve it. Perot led a commission that carried his name. The panel met for months, produced a game plan and Perot then barnstormed the state to sell it to educators, civic groups and political leaders.

The recommendations included “No pass No play,” which required students to score at least 70 percent in all classes to qualify for extracurricular activities. “No pass No play” became the precursor to a regimen of standardized tests. No one these days seems to like the testing requirements. Teachers, students and parents all hate the notion of “teaching to the test,” lamenting all the time wasted at the beginning of a school year just catching students up to the test requirements that await them.

Evan Smith is going to explore all this with Diane Ravitch. Maybe we’ll learn of another test that’s about to come on the scene.


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