The state of Texas has had a statewide program for academic assessment since 1979 (Keating 562). The State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) was enacted in 2007, and the implementation started in 2011. The main aim of the STAAR is to appraise the knowledge of students and skills.
The scope of the STAAR is to test students in grades three through to eight in reading, math, science, and social studies (Guisbond, Neil and Schaeffer 35). In addition, it includes assessments carried at the end of the course and taken between grades 9 and 12. The STAAR has experience mixed reactions in Texas.
Proponents argue that it provides the best alternative to measure knowledge and skills of students. On the other hand, there are counter arguments that the program causes mental and emotional strain on the key stakeholders i.e. the students, parents and teachers (Dutro and Selland 342). This paper analyzes the issues facing the program based on the counter argument.
Measuring Knowledge using STAAR
The STAAR is designed to ensure that a student passes a minimum of 11 end-of-course exams (EOC) in order to graduate. The students must achieve a minimum cumulative score on all the given exams. According to Dutro and Selland students are supposed to pass all EOC assessments in order to graduate from the high school (347). The EOC accounts for 15% of the students’ grade. Thus, a failure in an EOC may bar a student graduating from high school.
According to Featherston, the STAAR places a lot of emphasis on testing, this negates the teaching to acquire basic skills and knowledge (3). Teachers have resulted in teaching towards the tests. In addition, the students are more anxious about the tests due to the time pressures and formalities that relate to STAAR that end up placing strain on them to perform well. Thus, the students may fail due to the pressure or pass with flying colors due to the fear of the consequences.
This is due to the fact that the current standardized testing is based on ‘test and punish policies’ (Weiss par. 3). While substantiating the claims, Warren and Grodsky stated that STAAR does not measure the knowledge of students (647). For example, a study conducted by Dutro and Selland, established that majority of tests contain information that is hard to understand and thus, the tests do not properly assess skills and knowledge (357).
In the study by Dutro and Selland, a student exclaimed that “I was finally happy when I could read chapter books, but I know I’m not good at it. I do badly on those tests. When we take them, I just know it will be another low point, so the books I like, I know they are too low for those tests” (359).This is a pointer that the STAAR has not been able to evaluate the students’ knowledge.
Warren and Grodsky added that the tests under STAAR are too many and thus causes the students to lose interest in the learning process (648). Cramming of the content being taught has replaced the basic learning process, which builds the students critical thinking skills. This is contrary to basic the teaching process in which testing is supposed to link the learning materials and the student in order to promote critical thinking and understanding the concept of issues being taught.
However the advocates of the STAAR state the standardized testing is the only viable option to assess students’ knowledge and skills. This is because some teachers and parents trust that STAAR determines the academic situation of students in relation to writing and reading.
Featherston added that the STAAR develops and administers tests that assess students’ knowledge against the set standards for learning (4). As a result, this ensures that all students have the required proficiencies in knowledge and skills and that as they progress to the next grade they are not falsely promoted.
Preparedness of Teachers to Give Students what they need for STAAR
The state of Texas has developed new curriculum for subjects such as World Geography and Biology. The standards for the new curriculum have been adopted by the State Board of Education (Guisbond, Neil and Schaeffer 36). However, the state of Texas has not provided materials required to boost the program. The teachers lack textbooks that promote the new curriculum standards.
Dutro and Selland stated that the STARR has shifted the focus of teachers from guiding students to gain critical thinking skills that students require for their college and future careers to ‘teaching to the test’ (360). Furthermore, the EOC evaluation tests are normally written in a complex language, three Lexile levels. This implies that the student may be aware of the subject matter but may not understand the tests because they are written in language that is higher than their normal grade.
In the support that teachers are not giving the students what they need to prepare for STAAR, a university professor, Walter Stroup posited that STAAR is about how well the students are at doing the standardized tests (Weiss par. 1). Thus, teachers do not teach the right content. However, proponents argue that STAAR has led to teachers proving the students with the content they require in order to prepare them for college and future careers.
For instance, it has led to a shift from grade-based to course-based assessments. In addition, the standardized tests have revolutionized the teaching process because teachers can link performance standards to external evidence of postsecondary readiness. Thus, there is the need to device other measures to evaluate the educators and students in order to improve academic performance and equity.
Based on the arguments, it can be generalized that STAAR has increased the test workload for teachers, students, and the parents. The emphasis on the standardized testing has led to teachers aligning the teaching strategies to ‘teaching to the test’. This has negated the principle that education is about learning and understanding.
However, it is worth noting that STAAR is not entirely terrible. The lack of proper standardized tests, teachers and parents will not know the academic progress and preparedness of students to move to the next level of education. Thus, there is the need for test standards that uphold holistic learning of students and that motivate teachers rather than pressurizing them.
The tests should be designed in relation to understanding the implications of standardized testing and their effects on students’ mental and emotional wellbeing. The tests should be designed in a manner that incorporates the empowerment ability in which teachers are provided with learning materials to prepare students to achieve the set standards.
Dutro, Elizabeth, and Makenzie Selland. ““I Like to Read, but I Know I’m Not Good at It”: Children’s Perspectives on High‐Stakes Testing in a High‐Poverty School.” Curriculum Inquiry 42.3 (2012): 340-367. Print.
Featherston, Mark. High-stakes testing policy in Texas: Describing the attitudes of young college graduates, Texas: Texas State University, 2011. Print.
Guisbond, Lisa, Monty Neill, and Bob Schaeffer. Resistance to high-stakes testing to spreads. District Administration 48.8 (2012): 34-42. Print.
Keating, Daniel. “Formative evaluation of the Early Development Instrument: Progress and prospects.” Early Education and Development 18.3 (2007): 561-570. Print.
Warren, John, and Eric Grodsky. Exit exams harm students who fail them– and don’t benefit students who pass them. Phi Delta Kappan 90.9 (2009): 645-649. Print. Weiss, Jeffrey. Texas’ standardized tests a poor measure of what students learned, UT- Austin professor says. 11 Aug. 2012. Web.