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School board candidates speak out on state testing

Profile image for By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer
By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer

Denton school board candidates shared their views on the STAAR test, school finance and budget cuts at election forums this week.

Place 3 incumbent Glenna Harris, who’s running unopposed, Place 4 incumbent Mia Price and Place 5 candidate Prudence Sanchez and incumbent Charles Stafford participated in a candidate forum hosted by the Denton Kiwanis Club on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Price, Sanchez and Stafford participated in a forum hosted by the Denton League of Women Voters at the Denton City Council chambers. Donna Woodfork, who is running in Place 4, was not present at this week’s forums and could not be reached for comment.

The candidates were very vocal in their thoughts about the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test.

Stafford said Wednesday he didn’t like it. He added that while the district should be accountable, the test also should be reasonable. He received applause from those in attendance at Thursday’s League of Women Voters forum when he said, “We have allowed testing to steal the love of learning from our classrooms, from our schools.” Stafford called the testing overboard.

“The state has gone crazy with over-accountability, over-testing,” Stafford said Wednesday. “High-stakes testing on little kids has stolen the joy of learning from our classrooms. It is wrong.”

Sanchez, his opponent, said that while she believes there should be some form of standardized testing, students are tested too much. Anything that stifles the creativity and joy of learning needs to be looked at, she said.

“I believe that the joy of teaching has been affected by all the testing that has to be done in the classroom,” Sanchez said. “I don’t like the idea that our teachers have to teach to a test ... and I believe that there are other ways to gauge the success of the student in the classroom. I don’t believe that so many tests ... is what our children need. I think we need creativity in teaching and creativity in learning.”

Harris said “testing itself is not a bad thing,” but when the results of those tests don’t arrive until a year after students are tested, it doesn’t help a lot. Ideally, she said, benchmarks are good at seeing how students are doing so that educators can be informed on getting students to where they need to be. Overemphasis on testing is a bad idea, Harris said.

Price said at the Kiwanis forum that STAAR was pushed out of the gate before it was ready, with no standards and no accountability.

“We can be accountable, but it’s really important that the legislators communicate with us so that we can all work together to develop the type of test that will best serve the needs of our students,” Price said. “The STAAR is not that test and it was a tremendous, tremendous amount of money.”

Price said Thursday that the “state Legislature was duped” and that too much money was spent on a test that wasn’t properly implemented. Like Harris, Price said she favors benchmarks but feels accountability should not be based on a pass-fail grade.

In the last two years, as a result of cuts by the state to public education, the Denton school district suffered $17 million in cuts.

Candidates on Thursday were asked if cuts were needed and what areas they would consider — administration, teaching or special programs.

Price said “none of the above.” She said the district streamlined its staff, and teachers are burdened with large class sizes.

“We’ve done that. We’ve been there,” she said. “I’m not going to do that again.

“I’m not cutting any of those programs. What I will do is make sure that we constantly assess our programs and make sure that they’re efficient and effective.”

Sanchez said she would consider other programs that don’t impact teachers’ salaries and resources to children. She said she would have to look at administrative-level salaries to determine if they’re reasonable and commensurate with districts of the same size as Denton.

Stafford said that when the budget is 85 percent payroll, jobs will be eliminated. If cuts must be made, he said the district would need to do what it has done, which is to limit the impact on classrooms. He said there have been enough cuts, and if they continue to make cuts, teachers will become burned out. He suggested cutting “in a very careful measured way, and you wouldn’t do it by furloughing people, you do it by attrition.”

Forum attendees at the Kiwanis gathering asked candidates how a portion of the more than $5 billion cut from public education during the last legislative session that’s expected to go back to public schools should be used by Denton.

Sanchez said it’s important to be good stewards of the district’s resources and ensure money isn’t taken from students and teachers.

Harris said funding formulas have remained the same since 2006, while the number of students continues to grow. Some public funding could be returned to the district, but that doesn’t fully solve the problem.

Harris said she would like to see class sizes decrease.

Price also said she would like to see class sizes decrease. She also said she would like to see the funds returned to public education spent on professional development for teachers, special education programs and limited English proficient students.

Stafford, too, said decreasing class size is important, adding several economically disadvantaged students enter school academically behind, and smaller class sizes could help bring those students along.

Early voting begins Monday and election day is May 11.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.