With the 2016-17 school year well underway educators are preparing their students for the upcoming State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness exams, which will kick off early next year.

However, to help faculty and staff gain a better understanding of assessments and state scoring, Huntsville ISD hosted a special presentation from nationally-known speaker John Tanner on Monday morning in the district’s Support and Learning Center.

The presentation was attended by several educational institutions including, HISD, New Waverly ISD, Sam Houston State University, New Caney ISD, College Station ISD, Region 6 and Region 12 representatives. The special event was made possible by Edgenuity Inc.

Tanner kicked off the event by giving a brief history of of the A-F grading system, which was started by Gov. George Bush in 1999. He went on to explain how many states, including Texas, grade districts based on test scores.

“The Texas system very much represents the current way most of the states are doing this,” Tanner said. “You take test scores from the state and you add in attendance and graduation. We’re very much in line with what other states are doing,. The agreement among researchers, experts, teachers and so on is that A-F systems do not work. I have found reams of research that suggests that they do not work.”

Tanner explains that systems such as the A-F grading system can be altered by people to match what they think should be the certain standards district should meet to reach a certain grade. Tanner says it leaves districts not knowing what the underlying reality is for their district.

“Every case with A-F, that is what happened. Somebody didn’t like the results, somebody had a different bias, and they insisted on those tweaks,” Tanner said. “That leaves you with one conclusion, that you can’t know what the underlying reality is and that is an enormous problem with these systems.”

Using results from a study done by the University of Oklahoma, Tanner explained that these grading systems turn into labeling systems of schools and districts. By simply labeling a school with a low grade forces schools and districts to make changes based on that grade, which could severely handicap a large portion of the student population.

“What happens over and over again with labeling systems is that the ‘D’ school has to make decisions as if the whole school was a ‘D’ school, as if all of the students are ‘D’ students,” Tanner said. “That damages the students, and in addition, these schools are suppose to change everything so ‘D’ schools have a tendency to go into fight or flight mode and that is very dangerous.”

Not only does the grading system place labels on schools and districts, but Tanner explained it creates an environment where districts start testing for ranking. According to Tanner, all accountability testing in the United States is based on ranking schools.

“We need to understand what these are doing so we can use them properly. When it comes to testing, or student achievement, we not have something to measure it but we can’t observe it,” Tanner said. “If we are going to rank schools, we have to invent differences. When you build those kinds of test, what you are doing is not trying to say how much of the stuff kids have. You can’t measure it. What you’re measuring is relative differences. You’re measuring students above average and below average, so you can go into the information and see patterns that you need to disrupt.”

Tanner explained that a ranking of accumulated literacy and numeracy is a result of multiple effects, which are divided into Type A and Type B effects. Type B accounts for two-thirds of the effects and is what schools can not control. Type A accounts for about one-third of the effects, and is what schools can control, and is very important when it comes to accountability.

“There are dozen of ways to rank on just things we do in school, and this is what we include in our accountability system,” said Tanner. “Although it appears as a relatively small piece, it is a piece that can make or break a student.”

Overall, Tanner summarized that test-based accountability “looks nice on paper, but it does not and can not do the job it was designed for.”

He explains that in order to do better, teachers need to take control of what goes on in the classroom, and to not let a label given by the state dictate what they do. He said teachers need to ask themselves, “What am I accountable for and to whom?”

“What am I accountable for, for this child? What do they need?,” Tanner said. “It is amazing what can be accomplished, what patterns can be disrupted, when you ask those kinds of questions.”