Schools across Texas have been re-testing student that did not pass their STAAR exams on previous attempts. My confusion comes from looking at grade level in which many of our students take the test for the first time.
At the high school level students are administered five tests required to graduate. The tests consist of English-Language Arts 1, English-Language Arts 2, Algebra 1, Biology, and U. S History. In most high school the students are required to take the Algebra I, ELA I and Biology Tests as Freshman. Sixty percent of the tests required to graduate from high school are administered at the Freshman level. WHY? If sixty percent of the tests are administered to students as Freshman, then does it really make them “exit level” tests?
I have asked why the initial administration of the biology test cannot be pushed back to their sophomore year resulting in two tests as a freshman, two tests as a sophomore and one as a junior. The answer I have received more than once is “so that they have the maximum number of opportunities to retake it”. HUH? Isn’t that a very negative approach to student learning. Before class even begins the leadership is planning for their failure and the need to retake the tests.
I am proposing that biology, as a course, be pushed back to the sophomore year for most students. This will relieve the stress of taking three exit level test in the first year of high school. Secondly, it will allow students to focus their attention on ELA I and Algebra I rather than splitting their attention in three directions. It will also allow some of the students to mature and develop prior to taking the Biology test. Strictly from an observation point, the students that are not passing the Biology test as freshman are not developmentally ready to be successful, they need to grow up some more.
While I’m at it, there has to be better way to administer the retests. In my current building we have been “shut down” for the entire week because the extremely large number of students retesting. A week of “babysitting” the students that are not testing. There is so much wasted time surrounding state required tests. It is time to progress to a new paradigm in testing. If you are not testing, then you are not required to be at school that day. It does not count as an absence or present. This will allow the teachers and administrators to focus on the students that are testing.
As far I can determine at this point, we should lose 15-20 of instruction while “shut down” for benchmark tests, practice test, checkpoint test and the actual tests that count. 180 days of instruction are required by law. Many school districts receive waivers for 3 days a year for additional training, taking the instructional days down to 177. If you take away 20 days for STAAR related testing, then that takes it down to 157 days possible for instruction. Subtract another 12 days for semester finals reviews and finals (at the high school level) then 145 days of instruction. Just for fun throw in the Friday of Homecoming, the last Friday before Thanksgiving, the last day before Christmas and the Friday before spring break as days that minimal instruction is taking place we are down to 141 days of instruction. Wow, when you factor all those “wasted” days then we are below the number of days in the “old days” when school ran from Labor Day to Memorial Day.
If we really want to improve education, the let teachers teach and stop wasting so much time testing that a bunch of reach guys can make more money off the test.
David R. Taylor
29 Year Teacher, Coach and Principal