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By W. Gardner Selby January 12, 2017

Abbott wins compromise on testing pre-kindergarten students

While running for governor, Greg Abbott faced a charge that he wanted to mandate standardized testing of 4-year-olds enrolled in half-day pre-kindergarten classes.

Not so, we found, but Abbott did call for changing state law to offer more money to school districts that agree to implement a "gold standard" program consisting of a rigorous curriculum and staff requirements--with student progress in such classes to be gauged and widely reported.

Generally, Abbott said, all districts with pre-k classes should be required to "administer assessments at the beginning and end of the school year" by picking from a list of approved assessments to be spelled out by the Texas Education Agency.

Abbott said assessment methods could include norm-referenced standardized tests; teachers checklisting each child's mastery of materials within the class's daily routine; or teacher "portfolio" reviews of each child's accumulated work. "Most states employ one or both of the first two assessment methods," he said in his October 2013 compendium of campaign vows. "Texas is one of only four states not to require any assessment."

That's not going to be the case any longer.

As Abbott noted in a June 2015 document distributed to reporters, the 2015 Legislature included in House Bill 4, which Abbott signed into law, a requirement that districts offering pre-k classes assess students in those classes and publicize the outcomes.

Per the proposal, authored by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, each school district shall select and implement appropriate methods for evaluating its pre-k classes "by measuring student progress" and make related data available to parents. Under the law, a district may administer diagnostic tests to evaluate student progress, but cannot employ a "state standardized assessment instrument." In keeping with Abbott's campaign vow, the law says the student assessment "must be selected from a list" of appropriate tests identified by the education commissioner.

To our inquiry about these changes, a Huberty aide, Ben Melson, agreed the law doesn't require student testing twice a year. By phone, Melson also pointed out the proposal was amended on the motion of state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, to require districts assessing student progress to report results to the state--and describe the materials used in classes. Also under her amendment, the state is required to post such data online.

We're marking this Abbott promise a Compromise.

COMPROMISE — Promises earn this rating when they accomplish substantially less than the official's original statement but when there is still a significant accomplishment that is consistent with the goal of his original promise.

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