“You have been weighed. You have been measured. You have been found wanting.” — Anonymous
Yesterday completed our round of testing for the year. Really, who am I kidding? Yesterday, was just the end of the beginning of testing for the year. We completed the English I and English II STAAR tests for the year. Those are the toughest tests for the students and the toughest to administer. So, there are some sighs of relief, but we are just beginning.
While testing a group of 10th graders, I got the email from our testing coordinator. “Congratulations, you have been selected to administer the TSIA tests.” If you aren’t in education you have no idea what either of those two tests are. Many of us in education barely know. In addition to all of this we have three more STAAR tests in early May and the more driven students have AP exams around that time as well.
To pay off on the teaser, The TSIA stands the the Texas State Initiative Assessment. It is given to students before they graduate to determine if they need to take remedial classes at a community college before they can take the courses that really count.
Since January 1st, we have taken mock STAARs for the five different STAAR exams, we took a field test for the English STAAR because we were fortunate enough to have the state of Texas choose our school to give that exam. We don’t get to see the results. We just had to take a day to test. We have administered the SAT, both English STAAR exams, and the TSIA, AP Exams, and the other three STAAR tests will come between now and the end of the school year.
Students are told they have to pass all five STAAR tests in order to graduate. They are told they have to pass the TSIA in order to avoid paying for remedial classes that don’t count towards any degree. Teachers are told that they have to follow all of the rules or their teaching certificate could get pulled or we get stripped of our fingernails (whichever is more painful).
It obviously gets to the point where we have to ask exactly what we are measuring. I think all of us get it on a certain level. We want to see what students have learned. We want to make sure teachers are teaching the curriculum. We want to know if students have the skills they need to succeed in the real world. All of these are reasonable points and reasonable questions to ask.
What isn’t reasonable is putting all of that pressure on a child. What isn’t reasonable is putting all of that pressure on those teaching those children. What isn’t reasonable is designing a test where students sit for five hours fighting off fatigue and boredom to try to master a difficult test. What isn’t reasonable is how the state is changing the tests to make it more challenging. Apparently, too many students are passing. So, we have to move the target further away.
Silly me, but I thought the whole point was to test whether students had mastered the skills necessary to succeed in the real world or in college. Has that changed dramatically in the last several years? Are we really adjusting to the changing times or are we simply punishing educators and kids for cracking the code to beat the test?
Meanwhile, the anxiety gets ratcheted up. A typical ninth grade student (at the tender age of 14 or 15) will take practice tests for three different STAAR tests, will take common based assessments each six weeks in all four core subject areas, will take three different STAAR exams, and will sit for the school day PSAT. That assumes they aren’t taking any AP exams. If you do the math, that’s more than 30 high stakes tests. One might wonder if you have time to do anything else.
Testing is also big business. One is free to wonder whether we really are making education better or simply filling the pockets of some powerful donors. Any good teacher wants to know that what they are doing is successful. We want to know that students are learning and that what they are learning is useful. We know that some testing needs to happen to determine that. In many cases, we are capable of doing that on our own or people within our district are capable of designing tests that can do that. They won’t take five hours to take and we don’t have to scare the kids and threaten them. We just want to know what they know. That’s pretty easy right?