Texas public schools are trading the standardized test they currently use, TAKS, for a brand-new test -- one that's much harder. Said Superintendent Terry Grier, "This is probably the biggest thing that's happened in Texas education in a long, long time."
This morning, five of the nine members of the board of education gathered to discuss the implications of the new test, known as STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.) Alicia Thomas, deputy chief academic officer, said the test is designed to be more rigorous, more complex and longer with a shorter completion time.
Rising ninth graders are first in line to take STAAR, which will go into effect in spring 2012. (Sophomores and juniors will still take TAKS.) Students are used to having to take only four exit exams. Under STAAR, they'll have to take 12 to graduate. A school will be rated either "acceptable" or "unacceptable" based on how the students test.
When students across Texas took STAAR during a diagnostic field test earlier this year, the results were "extremely low," Thomas said.
Grier said that the test necessitated a curriculum overhaul. Not that that's teaching to a test, he argued. Grier preferred the term "aligning curriculum," which pretty much means an overhaul.
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Kids will begin taking STAAR when they're just third graders -- at which point, according to Thomas, you can predict college performance. "If you are successful with the third-grade STAAR test, that means you are on track to be college-ready," she said.
And if they're not? If a student fails a STAAR test in grades 3-11, HISD will be required to provide remediation, probably in the form of tutoring. Nobody on the board knew how the cash-strapped district would fund the state mandate.
The board couldn't even decide how to break the news of the new test to parents. Board member Manuel Rodriguez Jr. suggested he and president Paula Harris "host a TV show." Board member Larry Marshall, who is prone to complaining about either the ungodly earliness or brutal lateness of HISD meetings, suggested that the issues were too important to bring up at 8 a.m. "This is too big for an 8 o'clock meeting," he said. "This needs to be a full-blown press conference." Assistant Secretary Mike Lunceford mentioned that he hasn't heard from any parents about the test (which probably means they don't know about it).
One thing's for sure: What HISD is teaching now isn't working. Said Grier, "If STAAR is teaching butterflies and frogs and we're teaching elephants and giraffes, we're going to be in trouble."