It is once again time to subject our children and teachers to the annual standardized testing routine that Texas calls STAAR. With one huge caveat – this process actually began, for most HISD students, at the beginning of the school year. Schools test students the first week of school. Then there are the practice tests. And test prep. And benchmarks. And snapshots. And tutoring during the week and on Saturdays. At the state level, Texas has spent $500,000,000 on testing alone from 2010-2015. This cost doesn’t include the money our districts spend on implementing the test, buying supplemental materials, additional staff and additional administration – estimated to be an additional $500,000,000. Money that is no longer available for student enrichment classes such as music or art. Money that could be used for PE teachers, librarians, nurses.
We, as a nation, have gotten away from teaching our children to think. We now teach them to take tests. We have made school less enjoyable. They are no longer a place where the passion for learning is encouraged for every student. We now test over and over. If a school isn’t performing then the solution is even more testing. The stress levels at these schools is beyond normal. It is toxic.
I’ve heard some parents say that their children or their school is not affected by the STAAR. My response – if your child is enrolled in an HISD school their entire curriculum is dictated by the STAAR. It doesn’t matter if the school is a supposed Montessori school or an IB school. The district’s curriculum is developed to adhere to the STAAR tests. Your children may pass with flying colors. Their teachers may not be stressed because they know they will not be punished for low test scores. If you are lucky enough to get into a “good” school that has high parent involvement and the parents have deep pockets, then good enrichment programs are likely available to the children, funded in large part by the PTO/PTA organizations at those schools.
But at the end of the day your child, like mine, is subject to the same curriculum that HISD requires for all our children. The lack of arts that previously encouraged creativity and analytical thinking are gone. The PE programs and recess time that is necessary for students to burn off energy have been reduced. They take the test starting this week and how they do on the STAAR exam will determine whether or not they pass to the next grade. All other measures of performance have been moved to the side. The STAAR has become the sole factor that decides whether a student is promoted to the next grade.
Unless you and your child opt out of taking the STAAR.
Two or three days testing should not determine the advancement of our children. Their entire school year should be looked at – by opting out we force the school to review the child’s entire portfolio for the year rather than a one day test. This is an important first step. Just as important, opting out puts focus on HISD policies that we disagree with. The following statement, taken from the Community Voices for Public Education (CVPE) website, express perfectly our concerns with HISD policy:
Opting out is a way to call attention to local HISD policies that should change. Write to the HISD School Board expressing concerns about the following:
· HISD should not use test scores to evaluate teachers. It is the only school district in the Greater Houston area and most of the state to do so.
· HISD should not use STAAR as a promotion standard for grades 3, 4, 6 and 7. The state only requires that STAAR be a promotion standard at grades 5 and 8.
· HISD should not use test scores as an excuse to close schools. It should instead support struggling schools and seek to make them better by implementing the community schools model.
Instead, standardized testing should be limited, should be low stakes and used only for diagnostic purposes. Assessments are best able to support student learning when written by those closest to the students–their teachers.
Opting out is only the first step. We must push the HISD board to change their policies or push for new board members that understand the damage that is being done to our children and our schools. We encourage others to join us in opting out. Contact the CVPE for information. They can direct you to those of us that have been through the opt out process. Those who have said enough-is-enough.
Ken and Kim Martinez
Proud parents of three HISD students