Not Even Close to Success

A common misconception present with our representatives is the belief that state mandated tests demonstrate results of student growth and development. My experience with students in my classroom and fellow co-workers has taught me otherwise.

Since 2012, The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has forced public schools to administer the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) with a focus on increased “rigor” not found in the previous test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), which I took while attending high school. Compared to the TAKS, the STAAR supposedly was created to assess skills at higher cognitive levels and depth. Administrators want teachers to provide a variety of interesting readings to our students, yet most readings provided in the STAAR exam is are excruciatingly boring, tedious, empty, and do not allow our children to think critically or engage the text in depth.

Michael Lopez and Dr. Jodi Pilgrim, authors of “Text Complexity: A Study of STAAR Readability,” researched the exams and scores of third and fifth grade STAAR tested students, and they discovered “the reading passages were one to three grade levels above the student's current grade level” (90). These are just findings of elementary students, so I have no doubt that students at the upper levels are enduring equal frustrations. The authors claim the students were tested at levels meant for an eighth grader. This leaves me to believe that these students are tested only to be set up for failure, which I ask, why? If our politicians truly do care for our youth, why force them to take a test that they have little chance to pass?

One may claim these tests establish legitimacy by increasing rigor. Although it is important to increase the rigor in tests to measure growth and development in students, these tests and readings seem only aimed at creating frustration for both the teachers teaching a testing subject and the students who have to endure it. There are literature and literacy programs established in public schools to promote reading and increase reading comprehension and fluency, but these programs often lack authenticity. The proposed literacy programs and promotions of literature are forcefully established by superintendents and administrators, and are then left for teachers to handle, which adds more pressure on teachers’ shoulders. Sure, you have the few kids who attend these programs, but out of the hundreds and thousands of kids in schools, why are there so few involved? It could be because these are the kids who “truly care,” as teachers like myself often said; however, I have reason to believe that STAAR tests are to blame. TEA have masked these tests as “authentic” literature, thus creating a negative perception on reading.

This sounds like a harsh criticism, and I am aware of how this is coming off, but the fact is no matter what is being established, our students are losing true growth and development, and they are becoming more discouraged due to failure frustrations created by these tests. It sounds like wishful thinking, but we must rid ourselves from this plague of state mandated testing. The reason I entered the teaching profession was to teach, to elevate understanding, and to instill my kids a love and passion for learning. I’m not a policy wonk from D.C. or Austin, and if someone who is reading this has another proposal, I am willing to engage in discourse. For the future of our students’ mental stability, academic opportunities, and prosperity of our country, I implore for teachers, legislators, academics, and administrators to come together and look for other solutions where we ensure proper guidance for our children to succeed by providing an educational system that allows our children to grow. My greatest fear  is that once learning becomes mundane and bureaucratic, a child will resent learning, thus diminishing true growth and opportunity.

Hugo Riverafeed