When I first started teaching almost 20 years ago, I taught Special Ed. This was before STAAR, and we gave our students the SDAA test. Now, I’m going to preface this with the understanding that I really had no idea what I was doing instructionally at this time. I had 6th-8th grade levels all in one class (which meant my students went from 11 to 15), and every one from students with down syndrome to emotionally disturbed – I was literally just surviving. I didn’t know how to use data to instruct students, and at that time, although our students took the SDAA test, it was really loosely used as a data point. This is how we used it – we would look at the grade level of test that our students used the previous year – that’s right, I had 7th graders taking a 2nd grade test (not a 7th grade test written at a 2nd grade reading level, just a straight 2nd grade test), and my goal was to move them up 2 grade levels. But if they didn’t move up 2 grade levels, oh well – no big deal. They just took a lower level test. Needless to say, this was not a good measure for students with disabilities, and this was thrown out to a more rigorous accountability system. As a teacher, I groaned, but if I was a parent of one of my early students, I would’ve celebrated. My students were being sold short on instruction. I feel that in my heart. And while I was doing my best as a teacher, the accoutability system didn’t show me what to do or where to go.
That’s the purpose of state accountability – to show where our students are excelling and where we need to target our instruction. It SHOULD NOT be used to measure your worth as a teacher, the intelligence of a student, or the quality of a school. However, it SHOULD be used to tell us exactly what standards our students are doing well on, and where they need more guidance, teaching and practice.
So here is why I think our students, at least in the state of Texas, should take STAAR this year – from a parent and a consultant’s point of view.
- The results are not being used towards accountability this year – for a school, district or student.
- The results DO NOT reflect your ability as a teacher or an administrator.
- The results will show us the standards our student have mastered and the the standards they have not, and the degree to which they have or have not mastered. We know that even in the most “normalized” school settings in the 2020/2021 school year, there will probably be regression, if for no other reason than a lack of time to get to all of the standards at a deeper level.
- We do not want to go 2 years without an “across the board” measurement of our students. This will only increase academic gaps (and we won’t even realize it).
- You probably weren’t able to cover all of the standards (the teachers from the previous year weren’t either). This will show you what they weren’t able to cover, so you can cover it proactively.
- This will show the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of virtual learning.
There is another phenomenom that happens – going back to special populations. A teacher says, “I think this student needs to be tested for …), and brings her concern to an administrator. The administrator looks up the students’ grades. He is making all 70s. Why? Because the teachers are grading on “effort”, or “participation”, or maybe the student comes to tutorials. This makes it very hard for the school to move forward with testing because there’s not an accurate picture of how the student is actually doing in their learning of the material. Enter 2020. We sure don’t want to “fail” students if they are giving any kind of effort, so I absolutely agree with passing the student if they basically “show up”. However, grades are not going to give us an accurate picture of what the student has learned this year. We need an unbiased measuring tool.
What will State Assessments give you?
- You will know exactly what standards you need to cover as a whole from the previous year before you start on your standards (I know this will not be easy, but if you don’t have this information, you’re going to have to rely on the students or wait until you teach your standards and have to figure out where they missed the previous year’s comprehensive standards – so having this information will actually save you time).
- Curriculum Coordinators and Specialists can use this information to add “building background” pieces into the curriculum during the summer to be proactive next year.
- You will know which students will either need intervention or more intentionality in the classroom (teacher tables, more scaffolds, etc) to, again, be proactive.
So, I know that many of you think your students can’t handle an assessment this year. I assure you, they can. They are tough. But I think the way you present this opportunity can and will make a difference. If you explain to them the “why” behind this year, that may give them some relief as well. Here is how I think the conversation should go – to parents and students-
I know you are used to this test being what we work up to all year, but this year, it’s different. We weren’t able to get to all of the standards that we needed to learn this year! That’s ok! You did amazing and we all worked really hard. I want you to do your best on this test, because the information will tell your teachers next year what they still need teach and what you’ve already got! So do your best, but the result of this test does NOT tell us how smart you are, simply what we need to make sure we teach next year!
Teachers, you’ve done an amazing job this year. I need you to detach your students’ performance on the state assessment to who you are as a teacher or who your students are as learners. The scores do not define either of you, nor the effort you put forth this year. But in order to move our students forward as quickly as possible, provide equity moving forward, be proactive in our planning next year, and arm you with necessary information about the standards your students have mastered (or not mastered), they need to have this unbiased measurement. Be confident in who you are as teacher. This year has been CRAZY! You have weathered it and done an amazing job!
Now, let’s get the information we need to effetively and efficiently work with our students proactively next year.
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