Mary Ann Whiteker: Golf and STAAR – The State Testing System

The following was originally posted on

Three years ago, my husband encouraged me to learn to play golf.  With a new set of golf clubs, I began this challenging, new endeavor.  It did not take long for both of us to realize I needed lessons.  My first lesson, the coach asked me to think of my stance and balance in comparison to playing basketball.  Well, I never played basketball!  Then came the swing, once again he referenced another sport, softball.  Strike out again, I never played softball.  I had played croquet, which appeared to be my link to the game of golf.  For months, I could not get that little white ball in the air.

My job responsibilities would not allow me the opportunity to practice daily.  There were many weeks, due to school commitments or inclement weather, I was unable to pursue this challenging activity on a regular basis.  After months and months of experiencing continued failure, combined with frustration, anger, and finally hopelessness, I reached the bottom of the proverbial barrel.  I was sitting in my golf cart crying.  I looked at my husband and tearfully exclaimed, “I am not stupid or lazy.  I really want to learn this game.  What is wrong with me? Why am I doing something that makes me feel so badly about myself?

As soon as those words left my lips, I knew this experience would become a defining moment for me in my professional world. Due to the repeated attempts and failures on the golf course, I had experienced what so many of our students experience in our schools today: anger, frustration, hopelessness based on their failure to successfully play the high stakes testing game.

Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, author of HB 5, recognized the folly of this “testing game” by reducing the number of end of course from 15 exams to 5; however, passing the 5 exams remained a graduation requirement.  The 84th Legislative Session offers hope for continuing the efforts to bring reasonableness back to our public schools.

Senator Kel Seliger has recently filed Senate Bill 149 establishing multiple measures that can be considered to determine student eligibility to graduate from high school.  If after 2 failed attempts to pass an end or course exam, there would be 2 pathways available for consideration.  Individual graduation committees (the principal, teacher of relevant course, counselor and parent/guardian) would determine the applicable pathway.  Decisions of the committee must be unanimous.

First Pathway

  • Subject core composite course average 70 or above
  • And satisfy 3 of the following:
    • Complete dual credit in core subject areas
    • College readiness on ACT, SAT, PSAT, TSI
    • Advanced High on TELPAS
    • Pass 3 foreign languages courses
    • Earn CTE certification
    • Score 50+ on any CLPE test
    • Pass a transitional college preparatory course in reading or math

Second Pathway

  • Additional remediation
  • Completion of project related to relevant subject area
  • Portfolio of work in relevant area, including work samples
  • Teacher recommendation in relevant course
  • Grade in relevant course
  • Score on failed EOC test
  • Performance on additional measures
  • Hours of remediation and college prep course attendance
  • School attendance rate
  • TSI benchmarks satisfied
  • Overall postsecondary readiness
  • Other locally determined academic information

The end of course exam is one test administered on one day.  The current testing game literally controls the future destiny of a student.  SB 149 retains high performance expectations; however, it offers opportunities for students to demonstrate their competency in other venues.  Schools will continue to prepare students for success in playing the testing game; however, for those students that cannot master the state exam game, SB 149 honors the unique abilities of our students and the challenges in their lives.

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