Please do not read this post if you love standardized tests!
It’s that time again- state tests. “Oh, joy!” said no educator, ever. Not only have no educators said that, no student has said it either. From back in the day when we took the ITBS on one day of the year to now when we are faced with STAAR, testing in Texas has changed immensely. As a student and a teacher, I’ve seen it all. Let’s talk about it, shall we?
Back when I was a kid…
When I was in school, once a year we would take the ITBS- the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. I can’t tell you why we chose Iowa’s test. I can’t even tell you exactly what all was on the test because they mentioned the night before we took it that we should eat a good breakfast and sent home a print out of our results some time after we took it.
That. Was. it.
I never worried about that test. In fact, it was a great opportunity to get some reading in after I finished it. No kids stressed over it. No one went to ITBS tutorials. No parents kept their kids home because they thought the test made them too anxious. It was just one day.
When I was a senior, I had to take the TASP before I accumulated 9 college hours. I have no idea what the acronym stands for. Since I was taking summer school that first summer out of high school, that meant taking it in the spring. It was one of the first years that they had us do this in Texas, and basically it told colleges if you needed remediation in math or reading courses before getting into the higher level courses. It’s called something else now, but kids still have to take it. I guess it’s because colleges didn’t want students paying for classes they were going to fail causing undue frustration. I really have no clue because it hasn’t impacted me as a student, teacher, or parent. I passed when I took it, my oldest passed when she took it, and that’s the scope of my knowledge at this point.
My first two or three years of teaching, we tested students with the TAAS test. That was so long ago that I don’t even remember what it stood for. The thing I remember most is, as a language arts teacher, I had to teach students something called a 3.8 essay. This was the formula that they had figured out worked best for students to pass the writing portion of the test. It was the very definition of a formulaic response, and we were basically told to ram it down our kids’ throats until they could recite a 3.8 essay in their sleep. Never mind the fact the most literature that is considered exceptional breaks many of the rules and conventions of the language. Never mind that the formula leaves no room for responses that fall outside the format.
With the TAAS, I experienced my first introduction to state testing tutorials. We had to get the kids to pass, so we not only hammered them with test prep in class, we also did it before and after school. Brilliant.
If I felt pressure with the TAAS, it tripled with the TAKS- Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Passing became more important, became a part of school ratings (and teacher performance as well- I don’t care what anyone else says), and made students more anxious than any incarnation of the test that had come before.
Those years are a blur for me. I know my students did well, but I had two kids during that time, so I’m going to claim pregnancy brain as the reason I can’t remember specific details. It could also be PTSD. Who knows?
Ah, the STAAR- The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. Welcome to a whole new world of pressure, anxiety, stress, and nightmares. Every time the test changes, administration freaks out and sends everyone to training and makes you prove you know what you’re doing. I’m pretty sure if I knew what I was doing for the last 10 years that hasn’t change because they changed the name of the test!
I will say that the STAAR takes it to a whole new level. 3rd graders get reading passages on 3rd, 5th, and 7th grade levels. Hey, kids! If you can read at the 3rd grade level, then to pass you have to read four grade levels ahead! Because that makes sense.
What kind of a moron writes these tests? No, even better, what kind of moron BUYS this test for an entire state population of children to take? I’ll tell you, it’s probably someone who has NEVER stepped foot in a classroom.
My Oasis in the Storm
I have worked at a public charter school in Texas for the last 5 years. One of THE BEST things about my school is that they don’t care about the STAAR. that’s right. They. Don’t. Care.
We are actually not allowed to teach to the test. Yep, they want us to teach the skills the kids need because, if we do that, then the kids will pass.
What is this sorcery?
You mean, if I teach English in a very rounded way with interesting texts and discussion and projects that kids will learn English. No. WAY.
The funny thing is that, even though we don’t care about the score, we outperform every school around us. I firmly believe that is because we are treated as professionals, and we are expected to do the job we were hired to do. Not to teach to a test that a company that makes millions created to make more money.
The Worst is Yet to Come
My biggest problem, and the source of most of my anxiety for the past two weeks, is the days I have to proctor the test. I can’t stay quiet for 4 minutes let alone four hours. I don’t want to walk around and watch kids take a test. don’t want to be stuck in a room for God knows how long. People! I have ADD for crying out loud. You guys are killing me!
So I’ll continue to get mini heart attacks until next wednesday when I administer the first test. Then it will be over until mid- May when we have to do it all over again.