A Project for Better Journalism chapter
opinion

Testing continues to hurt education

The signs are all there. It’s obvious to any high schooler who has survived it in the past. Tension is high, bells are off, teachers are switching classrooms, covering the posters on their walls, and cramming as much last-minute review as they can into endless rounds of boot camp.

It’s EOC time.

The STAAR EOC tests completely disrupt the flow of school life every year. This week, preparing for the tests and taking ELA tests have taken priority over everything else, from class projects and six-week tests to practices for any extracurricular activity, despite regional competition for academic UIL and OAPs, area competitions for track, swiftly-approaching competition dates for FFA and baseball and softball seasons that are in full swing.

If it was only the disruption to the school day for a couple of weeks every year that was a problem, then maybe the STAAR tests could be viewed as nothing more than a blip on the radar. A nuisance. A gnat. But it’s much worse than that. Not only is it keeping students from learning, both in the classroom and in extracurricular activities, but it remains a financial drain and a problem-riddled testing system that creates new problems, it seems, on a regular basis.

Texas has spent $1.5 billion over the past two decades on the testing process, but instead of correcting blunders along the way, it has continued to allow the monster that testing is to grow exponentially.

There are the big problems that hit the news and everyone hears about. For example, on day one, a server issue caused students taking the online version to be kicked off the software program running their test midway through administration. Every year, districts around the state pay thousands of dollars to prove errors in grading. The company that runs the testing hires people with no writing background to grade writing samples. These are all things that we know, but that legislators have not insisted the testing company find a fix for.

Then there are the “little” problems that no one reads about in the newspaper or hears about on the morning news. Problems like our own high school not receiving coded answer documents for this week’s test. The state admits it was their mistake, but since there was not time for them to correct it, it has left high school teachers the tedious job of hand-coding about 150 answer documents.

Supposedly the goal of the testing is ensure that students receive the best education possible from their teachers. Teachers strive to set goals, and parents obediently check their student’s results and their school’s results, but the information shifts and changes so often that those goals are worthless and results are meaningless. The entire standardized testing machine is a colossal waste of time and money.

Through it all, there has been no progress made in helping all students at all ability levels and all socio-economic levels make steady, quantitative progress. And honestly, anytime there has been the slightest trend towards success, the state once again changes the rules and changes the goals. At this point, there are so many different ways in which different standards are measured that it is impossible to keep them all straight.

To make things worse, standardized testing wipes out individual motivation from both teachers and students. Teachers are expected to modify teaching to fit each individual student, yet testing becomes more one-size-fits-all every year or so.

In the battle to create a cookie-cutter model of education, the state of Texas has gotten it wrong. School districts spend ridiculous amounts of money and time and effort on playing a game rather than on teaching students. It’s time – past time – for legislators to start to listen to the teachers who are in the trenches every day to see what works and what doesn’t, and then start to find a way to fix the mess they have created.

 

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