High Stakes State Testing

Last week our students took benchmark (practice) tests to ensure that they have made sufficient progress as we head into the final teaching stretch of the school year before the STAAR tests will be administered. Many people, staff, students and parents alike often view this testing season as a time of high anxiety and high stakes not only for Goose Creek CISD, but districts throughout the State of Texas.


O'Brien Photo

These state-mandated tests have been a sore spot and source of controversy for years. It's fitting then, that as the dreaded testing season kicks into high gear, Texas Monthly published an in-depth piece about flaws in the tests and state leader's apparent unwillingness to dive deeper into those serious defects. The headline of the article read, "Are Kids Failing? Or Are the Tests Rigged?" It is most definitely worth the read for concerned parents and, frankly, taxpayers who are funding an ineffective test that does little, if anything, to measure actual student progress and success.


It is sometimes difficult for district leaders to openly criticize the state testing system. When we do, we are often accused of simply avoiding accountability altogether, which could not be further from the truth. I'm a firm believer in that what is important must be measured, so we would continue to monitor our student’s success with or without a state instrument to do so.


Let me be perfectly clear: we need accountability! Our parents and communities need to know that we are doing our best to provide a quality education. However, I do not believe the STAAR test is the answer.


Let's break down a few key points of the Texas Monthly article, most of which comes as no surprise to Texas teachers who have been voicing their concern about test results for years. Students who they know are reading on grade level, per the state curriculum, are failing the STAAR. That's because this exam administered by the state is testing students on reading passages one to three grade levels above where the state's own curriculum says the students should be. In other words, the state's own test is testing above the state's own curriculum. Does that make sense to you? Then you understand why, as educators, we have been confused for some time.


Here's the reality of what happens under this scenario. Students, good students, are being told, through the test results, that they are not up to par, in fact many of them placed in pricey intervention programs they don't need to be in, according to the state's curriculum. Good, solid teachers with proven results are demoralized and frustrated. Parents and the community are led to believe that schools are "failing". Which is simply not true, even by the states own measure approximately 93% of schools meet the state standard, even with this flawed instrument. It is the test that is failing us, in that it is not demonstrating the higher level of achievement with its misaligned structure.


The problems with the STAAR test, many of which have impacted GCCISD, have gotten plenty of attention. Test questions with no correct answers, inoperable web-based testing, lost test results, longer-than-promised results are just a few.


What's more, the STAAR test- not even an effective measure of student achievement- costs the state about $90 million per year to administer.


I encourage you to read a copy of the article. But don't stop there. Check out two well-respected research studies: "STAAR Reading Passages: The Readability Is Too High," Szabo and Sinclair, January 2012, and "Text Complexity: A Study of STAAR Readability," Pilgrim and Lopez, October 2016.


I have no doubt that as you scrape just below the surface, you too will be shocked at the findings. You will have to ask yourself if this data, which clearly reflects a flawed systematic approach to diminished student assessment results, is merely accidental, or whether something more sinister is at hand. I urge you to call upon state leaders to take action to implement meaningful, accurate accountability for our Texas schools.


What I do know, is that our teachers come to work each day filled with passion and commitment to provide a quality education to every student. Our administrators, from top to bottom, are genuinely searching for innovative ways to support our teachers and support staff in their fulfillment of that responsibility to our community. Our executive team at central office is planning and strategizing ways to ensure that our students receive the education that they deserve. I stand committed to this community to hold each and every employee to the golden standard of quality in everything that we do. Self-reflection and pursuit of improvement in all that we do is a way of life. Working together with our parents, business and community partners is second nature and makes doing the work we do more fulfilling.


Thank you for the support you’ve shown and continue to demonstrate as you visit our campuses and see our students out in the community. Goose Creek Proud!