The Texas legislature has a strange obsession. Its members think that the best and only way to improve education is to require standardized tests and to make them harder every few years. Those tests can never be too hard. A few years back, the legislature decided that all students had to pass 15 tests to graduate, and parents across the state rebelled, forcing the test-lovers to scale it back to five tests to graduate. But they still believe that harder tests=better schools.
The legislators of Texas should take the Great Testing Challenge: Take the tests you mandate and publish your scores. Any legislator who can’t pass the eighth grade math test should resign. How many do you think would dare to take the tests?
This year, for the first time, ETS wrote the tests, and surprise!, there were computer glitches. Open the link and you will see a picture of little children at an elementary school in Abilene cheering the bigger children who were on their way to take the tests that would determine their worth and put a number on it.
Veteran teacher Jennifer Rumsey writes here about the state’s mandates and how they affect her and her students.
“It’s that time again. Time for STAAR testing in Texas. STAAR is the legislatively mandated series of high-stakes tests for public school children in Texas, and it is the most recent and most difficult of several testing program iterations that began in the 1980’s.
“I’ve seen them all. I have been a Texas public school teacher since 1999. I have experienced TAAS, TAAS prep, TAAS workbooks, TAAS-aligned textbooks, TAAS packets, and even a TAAS pep rally.
“Once students’ statewide overall TAAS scores became pretty high, the legislature made the costly move (paid to Pearson) to TAKS. The public schools adjusted: we adopted TAKS-aligned textbooks (published by Pearson), bought TAKS workbooks, held TAKS bootcamps and tutorials.
“And then came STAAR, or State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, which is the most ambitious testing program yet. The Texas legislature decided to gut public education funding that year, 2011. The cuts amounted to a loss of $5.4 billion, while they voted to create STAAR and pay Pearson $500,000,000. At first adoption, high school students were required to pass 15 end of course exams to graduate. Now, thanks to grassroots efforts to change excessive testing requirements, high school students only take five graduation exams. However, their future life success remains impacted by rules that they must pass these exams to graduate, even with their academic credits earned. [Note: Because of the deep cuts, Texas schools had larger classes and took cuts to librarians, school nurses, the arts, and physical education.]
“This week my freshmen students must take the 5-hour English I end of course exam. I will be one of the lucky test administrators. During one of my test administration trainings, I found out that I am now required to write down the name of each student who leaves the testing room to use the bathroom, the time the student leaves, and the time that they return. This information, along with a seating chart, will be turned in to the Texas Education Agency. I am not sure why. Is it an additional measure of control over the students? Is it an additional measure of control over myself and other education professionals? Is it a deliberate attempt at de-professionalization of educators? When I mentioned to my students that I had to keep track of their times in and out from the restroom, they were puzzled and irritated. One savvy freshman girl asked, “Do they want to know the stall I used also?”
“What I do know for sure is that these tests have become far too important. They are treated as top secret, national security-level documents. Why is the material in a standardized test treated as more confidential than the information in the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails? I have already signed my oath, and in my test administrator’s manual I am threatened with the loss of my hard-earned professional certification if I share information relating to what is on the test. I am cautioned to in no way purposely view the tests. Ironically, I am allowed to read the writing prompt to a student who requests it.
“Tuesday was a big day for my own family. My 10-year-old daughter is one of the unlucky guinea pig fifth graders in the state of Texas. She is one of the unlucky children affected by the State Board of Education decision in 2015 that “pushed down” developmentally inappropriate math objectives. Some of the newly required fifith grade material was, until 2015, not taught until the children were in the seventh grade.
“What does this “pushing down” of objectives do? It requires more material to be taught during the school year, stealing valuable time that math teachers need to teach the foundational material for that year. It makes math harder and more rushed for the children. It is wrong. The TEA suspended the math passing requirements for 5th graders last year. But not so this year. Nope. My child and her peers must pass this test or face retention in grade.
“And wait, the news just gets better. The outgoing Commissioner of Education announced near his departure that, “STAAR performance standards have been scheduled to move to the more rigorous phase-in 2 passing standard this school year. Each time the performance standard is increased, a student must achieve a higher score in order to pass a STAAR exam.” Thus, my daughter and all her 10- and 11-year old friends are being held accountable for inappropriate math standards and will be judged at a higher performance standard at the same time. Something is not right here. Something is very, very wrong. My child is not a subject to be experimented on.”