October Speech to HISD School Board on High Stakes Testing

I’m here again talking about the emphasis HISD places on the STAAR test  outside of the state requirements  and I’m asking the board to make substantial changes before the spring.

In my hands is some of the test prep that my son did in 3rd and 4th grade to prepare for STAAR. This isn’t all of it. I had a hard time getting every piece that he was required to do. 

HISD administration says there is not an emphasis on the test. I believe they are out of touch with what is happening in our classrooms, and these papers prove that.

The leaders of our district use terms like “global graduate” and “the whole child.” Teaching only to the test is completely counterproductive to this philosophy. STAAR does not measure critical thinking or creative analysis. We know this test has done nothing to improve the achievement gap; only widening the divide and predicting future socioeconomic status. 

With this much work and time devoted to the test, where is the opportunity for art, music, free reading, recess and PE? There isn’t any.

My son never had a lesson about music and never had an art project come home during those years. In fact, the school my son attended still doesn’t have a PE, music or art teacher. PE/recess – they seemed interchangeable at our campus – and were often missing.

While I applaud the new recess guidelines district leadership put in place this year, without funding for PE, music and art teachers, coupled with policies that place testing at the top of the priority list, what incentive do principals have to hire those type of teachers instead of testing coordinators? None.

And that’s what we need you to change.

I also applaud the board’s recent decision to place less emphasis on test scores in teacher bonuses, however, that is not enough. To truly change the emphasis on standardized testing, the board needs to change the promotion standards for grades 3, 4, 6 and 7. They should not include the STAAR test  a measurement correlated only with test-taking skills and socioeconomic status. Kids in poverty are being punished every year by this test.

Taking away STAAR as a promotion in every grade except the two required by the state would allow time for our teachers to identify and enhance children’s strengths while remedying their weaknesses. When you take a-one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, you are doing a huge disservice to the learning environment. No two people (or their brains) are the same. Everyone learns in different ways, and our teachers need the freedom and the time to work with the individual needs within their classrooms. 

So, while the board is lobbying for our city to buck the system regarding recapture, I’m asking you do the same thing when it comes to the intensive testing culture we have in this state.

First, step up locally and remove promotion standards tied to STAAR for grades other than 5th and 8th grade.

Then, continue the work of removing the ties of STAAR and teacher evaluations.

Next, let’s think about how we can support failing students rather than punish them, and how Houston ISD can work together with other districts across the state to demand the TEA and education policy in Texas do the same?