Tag Archives: STAAR

One Problem WIth Testing

I spent last week in writing classes with students who didn’t pass the EOC test.  What I learned: the STAAR writing exam is definitely better than TAKS; however, as long as the test is the one factor that matters over all others, our public education system is broken.

When I was in school–I know…a long time ago–we started learning how to write all the different types of essays in 4th grade. We built on that foundation every year. By 8th grade I could write any essay given to me, and I had no problem differentiating what I was being asked to write. High school essay writing was about becoming a more sophisticated writer. We didn’t focus on one type of writing over all others in any of those years. We focused on writing. All of it.

Today’s teachers don’t have the luxury of teaching everything they know needs to be taught in a school year. They have to focus on everything a testing company says must be taught in a year, and that focus leaves huge holes in students’ overall education.

I hear politicians say “If we’re teaching the test, at least we’re teaching something,” and I wonder where they went to school. I can count on one hand the bad teachers I had in 13 years of public education. All of them would’ve been bad teachers, regardless of the test. All but one of them would’ve met the standards of teaching to the test. But man we were bored in those classes.

I see great teachers today who consider getting out of the teaching business because it’s all about the test. They’re not able to practice their craft.

I don’t think the test needs to go away, but the way we structure everything around the test needs to change. Until that happens, we’ll continue down the road to the ruination of public schools.#


I’ll be back with vacation pics tomorrow.


TEA Meets Delores Umbridge

I remember watching the Delores Umbridge testing scene on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and thinking THANK GOD TAKS isn’t that bad. I think TEA must’ve used the scene as an influence when designing the STAAR and test administrator training. Now if we only had the Weasley’s.

A Plea From a Teacher

Dear Texas State Legislators, Governor Perry, SBEC members and TEA officials,

My name is Mary Beth Lee, and I’m an 18-year public education veteran. From the time I was 15, I’ve never wanted to do anything but teach. I love teaching. I love to watch my students engaged in real learning, in problem solving, in learning the tricks to time management. I love watching the light bulb moment when they “get” a new concept. I love how they’ll try and try and try something, failing miserably time and again, until they get it right.

I love the excitement of a job well done and presenting lessons and integrating technology into my classroom. I love the idea of collaborating with fellow educators to make my school the best it can be and providing life-long learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom for my students.

But I’m not writing this letter as a form of praise for a job well-done.

I’m writing because I’m furious. I’m furious at the expense of tests, and I don’t just mean dollars and cents. I spent an hour watching a slide show on how to give a test this week. How to create a seating chart, how to show time, how to actively monitor a classroom. Later this week I attended a session explaining what exactly my students will be required to do to pass this test, and I discovered the answer is take everything you’ve ever learned about successful writing… and toss it out the window.

In the 18 years I’ve been teaching I’ve watched the testing companies take over the education world. They drive our curriculum, they set the bar, they make billions of dollars off the idea of education reform. And yet, for all their billions, and the bars they’ve supposedly raised, there have been no measurable gains in true academic achievement. In fact, Fortune 500 companies and universities across the country complain that we’ve raised a generation of kids with AMAZING self-esteems, who can’t problem solve, think creatively or write in a way that effectively communicates their thoughts. We’ve raised a generation who can bubble in test answers like none other, but when they’re given an assignment without step-by-step instructions, they freak out.

The other day a friend told me her 4th grade niece cried all night the night before her test last year. She was terrified of failing. I’m sure her teacher cried all night, too.

I don’t understand. I’m all for real education reform. I’m all for saying let’s encourage schools to set up systems for student success and academic achievement. I’m all for measuring data and collaboration. But these tests we spend billions on have done nothing good for education.

I went to school in the era before the test. I had my fair share of lousy teachers, but more often than not, my teachers were dedicated professionals intent on seeing me succeed in the classroom. The test has changed NOTHING. We still have lousy teachers who need to be counseled into new professions, but most of us are constantly seeking to do better, be better, inspire our students to academic achievement.

I realize the testing companies love to tell you how we’re behind the curve when it comes to education. That’s hogwash.

No other country educates every student, no matter what, for free. Quite honestly, I’d put our top students against any other country’s top students any day of the week. No other country says if you’re willing to work hard you can do anything regardless of your mental starting point. No other country can boast the numbers of people we see on a daily basis who’ve built million and billion dollar corporate empires from the ground up. Our spirit of entrepreneurship and our commitment to democracy have always been building blocks of this nation, and that was the case before tests ruled education.

My fear: tests will kill that spirit and commitment because both of those require the ability to problem solve, think critically and embrace creativity.

YOU have the power to change this.

Educators do not.

Please, I’m begging you, do something about this. Don’t let our children continue to suffer the mindless monotony of bubbled in answer documents and No. 2 pencils. Put tests back where they should be: tools to measure but not the be all end all of our public education system.



Mary Beth Lee

Rider Journalism

The Problem With Testing….

Most teachers are amazing at their jobs. Simple fact. I know it’s hard to believe in the face of all the “bad teachers are ruining our country” politicking out there, but it’s true.
The thing is most teachers are teaching to a test right now. Not because we want to but because we’ve been told we have no choice.
I’m not against a test. I think it’s a good idea to have a checks and balances at the end of the year to see how kids are doing. I think it’s a good idea to have a set of standards your supposed to cover. The problem is politicians have embraced the idea that the test holds all the answers.
The test was supposed to “fix” public education. Unfortunately, that’s like going to the doctor because you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and having the doctor pull out the stethoscope and saying “all better now.”
The test is a diagnostic at best.
It’s not a cure.
REAL education reform is hard. It’s messy. And it takes a lot of time and planning and hours of teacher input.
Real education reform isn’t a test.
Real education reform is measured in multiple ways.
Real education reform needs to be developed and implemented by teachers and championed by politicians.
But for now, education reform is eduspeak for a new, more expensive set of tests that will continue us down the path to mediocrity.

Figuring It Out

I understand the idea of the test. If you’re new to this blog, the test I’m talking about is TAKS soon to morph into STAAR.
I went to school in the 80s. I had the teacher we called “Boring (insert last name starting with B here).” I aced his class. Every day we walked into the room, picked up a worksheet and wrote the answers, typically simple vocab, while he read the newspaper at his desk and told us to shut up. In ninth grade, my physical science curriculum consisted of rewriting the book in spirals and watching World War 2 films every Friday.
The problem: I’m not sure the test stops that kind of behavior. The move to a more rigorous STAAR won’t either.
This book I love called Whatever it Takes compares standardized testing to an autopsy. It says the real challenge schools have is getting involved in the process BEFORE the autopsy.
That’s a thought I can get behind 100%. Only the involvement has to be something OTHER than a test.
The simple fact is, and every bit of research proves this to be true, a test is false reassurance that education is better than it was in the past.
So what can we do?
1. Master teacher critiques. (not administrator. Admins are great. I LOVE mine. But they’re managers now, and most have been out of the classroom for too long to relate. PLUS, anyone can put on the dog and pony show of quality teaching for an announced admin eval.)
Two of the best teachers to ever instruct at my school have moved elsewhere. Anne Patterson is in Highland Park. Sheila Curlin works for a company that helps AP teachers become better AP teachers.
Both should have been in other classrooms helping teachers become better. And their classrooms should’ve been open for observation.
That observation should have been MANDATORY.
Curlin and Patterson could teach teachers more about excellence in the classroom in one lesson than 30 hours of post graduate work.
We have teachers like them on campus still, and we’re not alone.
2. Lesson Plans…and not those silly little papers we fill out with objectives listed. Real plans. With scaffolding. Plans that show how over the course of a unit we will measure student understanding of objectives (not by a test, but by formative assessment. NOT paper, not Scantron, not something created and billed by a multi-billion dollar businesses run by men who have no idea about real education.).
Instead these assessments are found in real discussion, in debate, in playing devil’s advocate, in creative projects. The list goes on.
The plans don’t stop there. They end with teachers looking at the results of their work, looking at the successes and failures and making changes as necessary. AND documenting those statistics and plans.
3. Team Teaching. At least teaming for those students who need extra help. How much more would a student learn if their English, history, science, social studies and elective teachers were using the same over arching idea then covering their subject area. EX: The Olympics. In a social studies class students could cover the history and geography and human element of the games. In math they could do anything from measuring distances/engineering ideas/body mass/mathematical equations that show who wins and/or loses, etc. In English students could study literature from ancient Greece and Rome or even study media reports from the WW2 games or 1987 games. They could compare and contrast games now compared to their origins. They could research. They could write, really write, based on facts and evidence and something other than a cute or touching two-page story about a time they met someone who changed their lives. In science they could study Physics, Bio, Chem, A&P starting with the Olympics.
Take that to art. 2-D and 3-D work that starts with the Olympics focus and spirals out. At the end of the unit, the students totally understand the Olympics, and the concepts they’ve learned have been reinforced from class to class to class. True learning has taken place. Learning that transcends a test.
An awesome master teacher friend of mine used to teach Art History. She always had tons of kids pass that extremely difficult AP test. She always used literature and history lessons while teaching art, and her kids were able to understand art’s place in time and culture because of the spiraling of curriculum to curriculum to curriculum.
This kind of teaching can ultimately be measured by a test, but the test doesn’t drive the curriculum.
The kind of education above isn’t easy. It cant be simplified to pass/fail. It requires real collaboration, not just a few words on a piece of paper, not hours and hours out of a school year sitting at a desk with a no. 2 pencil, a test booklet, answer document and certified educator acting as test administrator instead of a qualified professional who has spent YEARS learning the craft of teaching.
I read once that REAL education change won’t happen until we quit trying to change students into widgets, nuts and bolts. I believe that. I hope others do, too, before it’s too late.