An Interview with PISD Superintendent Dr. John Kelly

Pearland ISD Superintendent Dr. John Kelly was kind enough to answer our questions about standardized testing and its effect on various entities in the school system. Dr. Kelly maintains a blog on Pearland ISD’s website. The URL is https://pearlandisd.wordpress.com/.

How does the success rate of standardized tests (STAAR) benefit the school district?

I’m not sure that we benefit from the “success rate” on such tests.  However, we do benefit from knowing how we stack up against other districts on these tests.

Are there any funding decisions by the state (TEA) that are influenced by STAAR scores?

No, at least not directly. I suppose that the state helping struggling districts in some ways might be influenced by poor scores – but I don’t know of any specific funding stream for that purpose.  Pearland ISD certainly doesn’t get any help – and our scores are considerably higher than state averages.

What exactly does the STAAR try to measure?

 It measures student mastery of the state’s prescribed curriculum (i.e. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills).

What grade levels are required to take the STAAR? If a student fails, will he/she be able to graduate?

 At present, grades 3-11 are required to take the STAAR tests.

At present, students in grades 9 and 10 are the first group subject to end of course tests (which is a part of STAAR).  Students must pass 15 end of course exams to graduate.  However, it appears the state is going to reduce this ridiculous number to approximately 5 to 7.

What is your personal view of standardized testing – more specifically theTAKS/STAAR vs. the “old” way of testing (when current adults were in school)?

Although standardized testing serves a good purpose, it has become too over-emphasized in Texas.  We now have 3 times as many tests (15) to graduate from high school compared to the closest state (Florida with 6).  These tests are in addition to the SAT, ACT, AP, PSAT, and other nationally normed college readiness exams.

Is there any way for a parent to opt their child out of taking the STAAR test?

 No.

What factors determine what rating a school/ISD gets?

STAAR tests, drop-out rates, completion rates, and attendance. However, the current rating system is under study and will likely change considerably. Ratings have been suspended for the past year and probably again in the coming year until the testing issue has been settled.

How does attendance and drop out rates affect school funding, if at all?

If you have a low drop out or attendance rate your rating could be lowered.

With regard to funding, the state funding formulas calculate the number of students attending school each day of the school year. Thus, decreased attendance results in lower funding. And of course drop-outs mean you don’t get funding for those students at all.

In Pearland ISD, we have high attendance (96%), a very low drop out rate (less than 1%) and aren’t negatively affected in this area unless there is a massive outbreak of flu or some other rare occurrence.

Are there any new standardized tests on the horizon?

 No, the state will probably reduce the number of tests.

Do the pass rates from the STAAR test affect individual teachers in any way?

They could. If a teacher shows a continued pattern of poor results for  his/her students as compared to everyone else – and there are no mitigating factors, the administration could decide to give the teacher additional training, and to evaluate the teacher’s effectiveness for continued work with our students.  But decisions on teachers are not made solely because of state test scores.

Also, in some years, the district/state have rewarded teachers with outstanding results on standardized tests.

Our teachers are conscientious and so of course they want their kids to shine.  If the results aren’t what they’d like to see, they feel their exhaustive efforts may not be accurately perceived. Obviously, the good that teachers do is not exclusively measured on state tests.

Many parents and community members say that our teachers have to “teach the test (STAAR)” instead of following a curriculum. Is there any truth to that?

Yes, teachers have to teach to the test – but not “instead” of the curriculum.

We are mandated by the state to teach the state’s curriculum and to test accordingly. Until this emphasis is lowered, school districts have little choice but to emphasize those things (i.e. the state curriculum) which will be tested. Opportunities to teach creativity and other non-tested areas are greatly diminished in today’s atmosphere of high stakes testing – and there are  ratings/sanctions which follow for those who don’t comply.

Because of the importance attached to the STAAR test, many children that fail a section find that their self-esteem drops. Does Pearland ISD offer any counseling for these students?

I’m not much of a touchy-feely guy.  If “many” students need counseling because they fail a test, I think more of an emphasis on “grit” is needed – which essentially promotes the idea of persevering, learning from failure and success, and developing self-reliance. The promotion of that virtue begins first at home, then at school. You will see our school system increasingly emphasizing “grit” in the coming school years. But yes, we have counselors available to students, based on (among other things) referrals from parents. And every day, teachers work with individual students to help them in many different ways, and among them, helping kids to put such testing into perspective. [Read more about Dr. Kelly’s idea of “grit” on his blog.]

Thank you to Dr. Kelly for answering our questions so quickly and openly! If you have a related question that did not get answered here, please take a look at Dr. Kelly’s blog. If you still cannot find the answer you’re looking for, let us know and we will get your question to Dr. Kelly.

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