This Is Only a Test

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written. The holidays, life, work, yada yada yada… I’m writing this one because I need to write and because I don’t want to complete Fitz’s challenge. And so I shall use this platform to share some thoughts on assessment.

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests stage performances in school buildings all across Texas up to four times a year. Administrators prepare testing rooms, teachers lace up tennis shoes for “active monitoring,” and students sit in a chair for up to 5 hours with nothing but some sharpened pencils and test materials. We all play our parts in the STAAR testing theatre. Lately, the drama has taken a turn, though, and people are starting to wonder if the STAAR test is really a true assessment of what kids are learning, if maybe there are serious flaws in the way the writing portions of the test are scored (oh, there are).

screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-8-38-30-pm
I googled “STAAR test problems.”

And in a plot twist, a poet discovered that one of her poems had been used on the test and that she couldn’t answer the questions that were asked! English teachers have been saying this for years: an author’s intent can’t be truly known, and asking questions about it is unfair. Maybe now that an expert has spoken (though I’d argue that we English teachers are experts in our own right, but I digress), those who make the rules about testing will listen and make some changes. And maybe they are actually listening because (yet another plot twist!) just this week, TEA released new blueprints for the English I and English II tests, removing the short response items that recently drew so much criticism.

Because of the fiasco that is STAAR (and school financing, since the state contributes only 18% of the revenue in my district. You want us to follow your rules? Give us more money!), it’s time for districts to stand up to the state and demand more local control. My district has begun the discussion of becoming a “district of innovation.” While there are many variables and unknowns right now, other districts have already made the jump, so I’ll be watching closely to see how things shake out. The most important thing of all, though, is to do what’s best for the kids.

What remains after testing is a human being who cannot be accurately judged by what he or she has left on the answer document. We have to remind our kids that they are more than a test score. I’ve said before that one of my goals in teaching is to help my students become better versions of themselves. There’s no number or grade that you can assign to that.

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