HARLINGEN — Thirty two questions.
The State of Texas apparently believes that’s all it takes to determine the success of the math curriculum for third graders and their teachers and the schools and …
But teachers, administrators, students and parents know better, and the gathered Friday at the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce to make their voices known to legislators. They spoke of the unnecessary headaches and anxiety and disrupted lives resulting from the STAAR test.
The event was coordinated Friday by Raise Your Hand Texas, a non-profit organization which supports public policy solutions that invest in Texas’ 5.4 million public school students. It’s timing is especially poignant considering spring is an especially grueling time for teachers and students.
“This month we are practicing what we call drill and kill for the first round of spring benchmarks,” said Clarissa Riojas, a middle school English teacher in McAllen.
The room was filled with representatives from school districts throughout the Valley, including Harlingen, Mission and Los Fresnos.
Harlingen Schools Supt. Alicia Noyola thanked Texas State Sen. Morgan LaMantia and Texas State Rep. Erin Gamez for attending the meeting.
“I want to thank everyone who made this event possible,” Noyola said. “I want to thank you for the opportunity to hear the voices of the people that will be impacted by the decisions that will be made during this legislative session, for listening to the voices of those of us that are closest to the reality of the current assessment and accountability system in Texas.”
Noyola has spoken at length in numerous interviews and conversations about her concerns — which so many share — with the current STAAR test which focuses only on academics. And there is so much more to student development.
She contrasted the narrow testing of 32 questions to assess elementary mathematics with the broader spectrum of the human experience at any age.
“Those 32 questions do not measure the joy my third graders at Lee Means Fine Arts Academy feel when they’re on stage putting on a performance of the Little Mermaid and discovering their passion for the arts,” she said. “Thirty two questions do not measure the success of my third and fourth graders at Dishman Elementary experience when they win first place in nationals in chess.”
Riojas from McAllen contrasted these enrichment activities with the pain and futility of rote drilling and preparation for fact-based knowledge.
“For the past few weeks, we have been reviewing STAAR problem sets and testing strategies every single day,” she said. “The subsequent 2023 STAAR data will be used to determine who stays for tutorials for the remainder of the semester, who will give up their art or music class for remedial courses, and who will stay for Saturday for test prep academies. For teachers it will determine whether they are placed on a growth plan, how many more weeknights and weekends they will work, and how far they will need to divert from their curriculum in order to teach STAAR review material.”
She spoke then in depth about the effect this will have on everyone.
“I dread this time of year,” she said. “Students are mentally and physically drained, educators are stressed, demoralized and burned out. Increasingly, many of us are choosing to opt out of teaching. The sparks of innovation are diminished and the excitement that first drew me to the profession become obsolete.”
Too often people rely on the baser parts of learning — the fact-based, the knowledge-based, the concrete and specific — and turn those simpler parts into major and pointless headaches. Many feel that knowledge and information is the beginning and end of all things, but in reality hard facts are only the beginning of things, and after that there is innovation, nuance, passion, and spirituality. The creativity, the rearranging and the transforming begin with that knowledge but continue forever.
To find a comprehensive list of bills filed — and the status of those bills — visit MyRGV.com and click the 88th Texas Legislative Session tab, which has an interactive spreadsheet and a comprehensive list of AIM Media Texas’ legislative coverage.