It’s time to increase rigor because Texas kids are stupid.
That’s the message Texans heard this week from our legislators in Austin. State Education Commissioner Michael Williams came under fire over his decision to keep low passing standards on state achievement tests (STAAR) for the fourth year in a row.
How low are they? Fifth graders need to answer 54 percent of the items on math and reading tests to pass.
Needless to say, the editorial pages are filled with commentary from outraged citizens about how poorly our schools are doing. We need more tests! We need to have rigorous curriculum! Teachers need to do a better job!
Sorry, I gotta call BS when I hear it. This has nothing to do with our kids or our teachers.
It’s the god-awful tests, standards and curriculum!
As a college professor, I know there is something wrong with the test – not my students – if a large number of them do poorly on an exam. The problem usually stems from badly written questions or answers, and it’s my responsibility to fix it. The state of Texas has the same responsibility.
Based on the sample problems my children bring home, even I can see these tests have very obvious flaws. I tried to help my crying 9-year-old with a STAAR reading worksheet, but I had no idea what the questions were asking. My daughter’s high school materials were also difficult to decipher. Many of the teachers I’ve talked to admit they have a hard interpreting this stuff. No wonder the kids are struggling!
In addition to very poorly constructed questions and answers, the STAAR exams and their accompanying standards are developmentally inappropriate. Children’s minds are simply not mature enough to process, let alone master, the content Texas mandates. The ability for abstract thought does not develop until roughly age 12, and yet word problems and reading interpretation make up a large part of the elementary curriculum and testing.
The saddest part about all of this is that our younger children are internalizing this. They see their STAAR scores, and they’re smart enough to know that 54 percent would be a failing grade in class. The system is setting them up to fail now and in the future. Children who see “low” STAAR scores year after year get demoralized and many will give up by the time they hit high school.
My little boy was demoralized. He came home in tears a few years ago because he couldn’t understand the STAAR questions. It killed me to hear him say, “I’m too stupid to do this.” My husband and I were was so worried that we paid to have him tested. His test results came back NORMAL for his age and grade level, and we could not understand what was happening until the test administrator explained to us that the Texas grade standards are one year higher than the rest of the country. The math standards jumped up another two years for the 2014-2015 school year. My stomach is already in knots.
I wish I could say the folks in Austin know how this system is failing our children. I’ve contacted many legislators and several of my friends have testified about what testing culture has done to their children. The only response we get is legislative demands for rigor and more tests. One of the gubernatorial candidates even wants to expand standardized testing to preschoolers. Ugh, they just don’t get it. We have far too many tests as it is, and rigor is worthless when the content is developmentally inappropriate and poorly written.
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My son took six state standardized tests last year, each one running four hours long. My high school daughter has already taken her state algebra exam and must pass four more standardized tests in order to graduate from high school. Everyone in education knows that standardized tests are not an accurate measurement of intelligence or achievement, and yet our state dictates all children must pass these tests to move on to the next grade or graduate. It doesn’t matter if they’ve passed all their classes or if they have special learning needs; the tests decide.
Our kids are not stupid, and our teachers are not lazy. For those of you who hold this belief, I invite you to take a practice STAAR and see how you do. The Texas Education Agency, Pearson and our politicians are pushing a well-financed, and horrifically ineffective, product on Texas children. Four years of this mess is enough.
Originally published August 2014
Listen to the podcast for this post. Writer Kim Keller gets a bit fired up.