Confession is good for the soul: I don’t think I could pass the 9th grade Texas Language Arts STAAR reading test. There, I said it. This is from a person who has a liberal arts degree from a Texas state university (with teacher certification credits in the mix) and has flexed that degree to work in the worlds of publishing and video production. My video production career even took me into the Texas Medical Center where I learned valuable triage and diagnostic lessons from the staff there. Then I took several years off from the Med Center to raise my younger daughter and endure my own gauntlet of medical problems. To work part-time, I became a substitute teacher in Houston ISD.
There was a call for tutors last summer in HISD for the ninth grade students who hadn’t passed STAAR reading test the first time. I’m quite good with emergencies after camping out in the ER with my camera crews, so I signed on. How hard could it be? Yet, the test prep worksheets baffled me. I would get completely different answers from my students. I needed the official answer key. For the first week of summer school, I couldn’t locate the icon of the little girl with the sunflower to click on that particular HISD screen to locate the answers—- I was out of the loop.
Here’s the frightening fact I discovered: None of the college-educated, Texas certified teachers could navigate these prep materials without this all-important answer key. We didn’t dare, because we had not been educated under the STAAR regime or even the previous TAKS era. We don’t think like those tests.
Thus, it came to pass that one of the boys in class, who I truly believe was functionally illiterate, got the right answer every time. It was painful watching him try to decipher the squiggles on the page. He was a wonderful kid and I secretly wondered why he hadn’t been assessed as to the true nature of his learning issues versus squeezing him like Play-doh Fun Factory clay through these tests. How could he get these answers? He used his “test strategies” and was correct every time. I was in awe of his ability—- not being able to read the words on page, yet coming through as “successful” in this bizarre STAAR world.
Long story short, he did pass the exam and I got credit for helping him do so. I finally found the answer key after clicking through several online pages after that first week. I was then able to help more students pass by twisting their brains into “STAAR think”, but I needed the crutch of the all-important answer key.
These students probably can’t transfer these abilities to the world of work—- unless these work places use “strategies” on multiple choice bubble tests, which I don’t believe they do. Somehow, in the pre-STAAR test world, I was able to take my liberal arts degree and range far and wide with my skills, but according to our “education reformers”, this should not be true. After all, there’s no data to back it up, just my work history. Yet, we’ll continue to hear whining from the business community and politicians about “unprepared, uneducated workers” from this group of test takers. In an act of complete madness, these same business/government leaders will keep on enforcing exactly what is producing this scenario.
I want to be an optimist and believe that our state and our school district will snap out of this insanity, but somewhere, deep inside, I know the prognosis isn’t good.