Shhhh…..testing in progress.

Today, a break from the lege to talk about what testing feels like on the ground. Legislative battles over 5 or 15 tests and standards aside, students in Texas sharpened their pencils, sat down, and took STAAR tests this week.*

We can talk until we’re blue in the face about what to measure and how often, but no matter all that – the way it plays out on the ground is often a different story.

At the high school where I’m an intern, I can report that testing means an odd mix of chaos and calm. Walking the halls during testing hours, you could see proctors outside of rooms and signs on classroom doors: “DO NOT DISTURB – TESTING IN PROGRESS.”

When the bell rang for lunch or the afternoon periods after testing, chaos reigned. Kids flooded the hallways with pent up energy, and a food fight even erupted in the lunchroom. No big surprise for a few thousand kids made to sit tight for hours at a time, filling out bubble sheets and writing five-paragraph essays.

Students who weren’t taking tests were assigned to “TAKS Camp” – supposedly intensive test prep for the next round of TAKS tests. Every student I asked about that “bootcamp” was nonplussed. “Boring.” “Pointless.” “We didn’t really do anything.”

And the seniors, who didn’t have a test to take or prepare for at the moment? They sat in the gym from 9:15 in the morning until about 2pm, when classes usually resumed. Or they skipped.

I’m sure there were other kids who took it seriously. Maybe some even too seriously. But I didn’t see those kids. This is just my experience, a limited one, at just one school.

But it begs the question: for all the effort our state puts into these tests, for all the money we spend and energy we dedicate to determining their importance, what are the kids getting?

One Texas student took it upon himself to make a statement. A Junior, Kyron Birdine will graduate based on TAKS, but was forced to take the STAAR test as well, as part of a test group. His response?

“I have the TAKS test to study for, not this unneeded craziness. YOLO [You Only Live Once]”. He then tweeted a photo of his creative response. He’s been suspended and the story has gotten international attention. In case you were worried he would go forgotten, don’t be: a#freeKyron hashtag is building steam.

Silly though his action may have been, the kid has a point.

YOLO, legislators. Are we going to fix this testing mess or what?

_________________________________________

*STAAR is the new version of testing in Texas, being phased in over the old TAKS test. More to come on that this weekend with the second round of my version of a Texas accountability history lesson.

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3 thoughts on “Shhhh…..testing in progress.

  1. Hi Jessica and Erin — I’m a graduate student at Vanderbilt university and have decided to focus on STAAR (an interest as a former Texan and UT Alum) for one of my policy papers. I’ve been trying to find if Dan Patrick has provided any rationale for his switch from voting for STAAR in 2007, to questioning some of it’s key aspects. Do you know if any has been provided (or for any of the other legislators that have switched)? — thanks, Kate!

  2. Great question, Kate! I haven’t found much that’s explicit on that topic.

    Patrick is quoted as saying, “We can blame the Legislature…If we have fouled this up, we need to get this right.” (from http://dailytexanonline.com/2013/02/21/senate-education-committee-investigates-low-high-school-performance-on-staar-exam).

    Huberty published a piece in his name (http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/memorial/opinion/texas-house-passes-house-bill/article_da768dd3-3f11-5118-a596-ffb2304262d1.html) supposedly providing his rationale, but not mentioning the flip-flop.

    As far as I can tell, none of them are making statements specifically about the switch in thinking. (I’m guessing you’ve seen Morgan Smith’s piece in the NYT that explains some of the early stages of the backlash? http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/05/us/student-assessments-facing-stiff-backlash-in-texas.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)

    I’ll check with Jessica to see if she’s seen anything. Glad you found our little blog and good luck with your paper!

    • Thanks, Erin, for your quick response. I’ve stumbled upon all those links. I’m not very surprised that he hasn’t given a direct response to his change of heart, but more so that reporters seemingly haven’t questioned it. Hope you don’t mind if I throw a few more questions your way as they come up. Great job with the blog!

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