This week begins the STAAR testing season—officially closing the gap on the change in state testing from TAKS to STAAR. Last year was the first year students took the STAAR, but with no accountability for students and school districts—meaning students did not have to pass the test to complete a grade level, and school district “report cards” were not tied to ratings or funding. This year marks the real deal, with all those variables going into full play, and mounting tensions for every player—student, teacher, administration and school district.
Looking to the week ahead, my stomach is churning as both a teacher and mother. As a teacher, I’m letting insomnia overtake me as I worry about how prepared my students are for THE TEST. I’ve covered all the material, given test-taking strategies, and thrown as many practice problems as I could find at their little brains—but still, I worry. I worry they won’t take their time, that they will make a simple subtraction error, or that they will simply have a case of bad luck and bubble wrong. Even as we’ve reviewed and practiced, I’ve seen areas in which my students need real work—and that’s what worries me most of all. This community has had many private and public discussions over CSCOPE, the curriculum DISD has adopted, and how that curriculum has influenced instruction—particularly in elementary school, and even more specifically, in math. I do not intend to portray my opinion as pro or anti-CSCOPE, but I do want to showcase the backbone in which CSCOPE was founded–the TEKS, or the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. These objectives are written by the state of Texas, and are the tasks all students in each grade level should master. The STAAR is then based on these objectives. It is this component of Texas education that should be held under a microscope and thoroughly examined. Below is an example of a fifth grade Math TEK, and a sample test question:
(5.3C) Use division to solve problems involving whole numbers (no more than two-digit divisors and three-digit dividends without technology), including interpreting the remainder within a given context
An employee at a video store worked a total of 90 hours in 3 weeks. She worked 5 days a week. If she worked the same number of hours a day, how many hours did the employee work each day?
The objective itself is a skill fifth grade students should have the number sense and computation knowledge to complete and master with a high success rate, but the way the objective is tested integrates critical thinking and problem solving. Students must interpret the math language, set up the problem, and complete the computation correctly to find the right answer—and every math test question is set up in a similar fashion. Many students can rise to the challenge, and do well, but there are also many students that for various reasons come up short again and again. I know how deflating it is for them, because it is for me, their teacher.
As a mother, I’m watching my children grow up in a very different environment than what I experienced. I remember taking standardized tests, but rarely realizing the impact those tests had on my educational success. However, my children know the drill of a good night’s rest, excellent breakfast, number 2 pencils, and focus needed for not just success—but excellence. My fourth grade son not only knows the definition of stress, but has shed tears because of it, and that doesn’t sit well with this Mama Bear.
During this state legislative session, there has been much discussion on Texas Education. There have been bills written and discussed to change some high school course requirements, and to change end-of-course exams also at the high school level, but there has been zero discussion on the topic of elementary testing. I understand the need for standardized testing to monitor growth and mastery of basic skills, and I would like to see elementary testing focused on in that manner. By monitoring academic growth each year instead of a set of tests given one day in the life of a child, school districts could focus on those state objectives at a deeper level, and more importantly, relieve the test anxiety of a 9-year-old. State representatives of every community in Texas vote on these matters daily, and those votes cause change.
My students are eleven years old, and are tasked with the job of a math test, a reading test, and a science test by the end of their fifth grade year. Last week one of them asked, “Why do we learn social studies? We don’t have a STAAR on it.” We should never STOP learning; we should always open our minds to art, music, theater, sports, photography, technology, cooking, and foreign language. Always. But, why learn about how our country was founded? Because one day you will vote, and it could make a differ