By the time an eighth-grader in Fort Worth ISD sits down to take the state’s standardized test, they’ve taken 20 other similar exams that school year.
Middle school English teacher Ale Checka said benchmarks, national testing and the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness — the STAAR test — create testing fatigue in her students.
Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series exploring the STAAR test and its impact on Texas education.
This year, all students took the reading test, which required more preparation, and students had to learn how to do the short answer questions. Checka said having to prepare for all these changes took away even more time that teachers need for regular curriculum.
The STAAR test is where the stakes are highest for schools, even though it no longer determines if a student moves onto the next grade. The state uses the scores to determine accountability ratings for school districts. STAAR scores also are where parents and the community tend to turn to determine if schools are educating children well.
In the weeks leading up to STAAR testing, parents are reminded to make sure students get enough sleep and eat a healthy breakfast. Counselors provide more support for testing anxiety.
But Checka wants people to know the scores parents are getting in August aren’t from one day of testing where students are refreshed and supported on the big day — they’re scores from after almost a month of instructional time spent on testing alone.
Students took the redesigned STAAR test for the first time this spring with changes that could impact the scores — and how the state rates schools.
Want to see the STAAR test changes?
Read our story here.
Texas Education Agency’s Deputy Commissioner of School Programs Lily Laux said the state had a successful online administration of the test, which is also new this year. At some points, more than 1.1 million students were testing at the same time.
When considering what makes a successful test, TEA looks for the administration of the test itself, any technical complications and districts’ ability to complete the test, Laux said. The agency saw no noticeable difficulties across the state.
Over the testing window, over eight million tests were administered to students, she said.
If a student needed accommodations to take the test, there were still options like taking the test on paper, text to speech or braille, Laux said.
It’s too early to estimate how students performed on the STAAR test in third through eighth grades, Laux said.
On the high school level, Fort Worth ISD’s end of course exam scores declined in most categories. According to the Star-Telegram article, testing experts said minor changes to testing can affect outcomes.
Where can I check my child’s test?
The Texas Education Agency’s Log In and Learn toolkit has the info parents need.
Testing mostly went well in Fort Worth ISD, Superintendent Angélica Ramsey said, but there are always hiccups.
Administering the test online across the district with students as young as third grade typing responses to open-ended questions and having to match items was a challenge compared to multiple choice questions in the past, she said.
“But I think that our teachers did a really good job of preparing our students before the test so that they would understand that it was going to be online and it was going to look different,” Ramsey said.
The district uses the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measure of Academic Progress test, which is administered online, so Ramsey said students had some familiarity with online testing.
TEA will gather input from district test coordinators to see what areas testing can improve in the coming years, Laux said. One area that might need improvement is local flexibility.
This year, TEA allowed school districts to choose some dates and test orders that made the most sense for their campuses, Laux said. In some cases, it caused confusion.
While Ramsey is confident in her teachers and their preparation for students, Checka wants her instructional time back.
“Twenty testing days — that’s a month of instructional time that I lost, that they lost,” she said. “But it’s more than that, you lose days surrounding talking to them about it, preparing them for it, etc.”
For years, the rhetoric around public education has focused on how to gain back learning lost in the pandemic, Checka said. Solutions include extending the school year.
“It’s hard to take that seriously,” Checka said. “If you wanted a higher test score and you want your students to learn more, you would give me the month of instructional time.”
The more testing students have to do, the more preparation they have to do for a new testing model, the less time they’re able to learn the material that will be on the test, she said.
“It is just, mentally, it’s grueling,” Checka said. “And the thought of doing that 20 times — that’s a lot for an adult, much less a kid.”
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.