With STAAR around the corner, concerns arise over too much testing

Local, state officials worry students are overwhelmed with assessments

Hunter Fletcher and Tiffany Hayes, Staff

Brett Harper sits in Alexandria O’Neal’s math class, fiddling with his backpack. The Red Oak Middle School 7th grader messes with his folder, then puts it back in his bag and starts working.

He looks up.

A few people start talking. Harper yells “hush!” then turns back to the math problem at hand: Question 16, which is assessing students’ knowledge of graphs. He thinks he has the right answer. He’s not sure.

Harper is the first to admit he sometimes struggles with equations in math. He just doesn’t get it — especially when it comes to tests.

“I hate taking tests,” he said.

But regardless of struggles, testing is a reality for students and staff, who must spend much of the school year preparing for district and state assessments, particularly the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) test.

Red Oak Middle School has largely performed well the past few years, outperforming the state in all tested areas. In 2014, 80% of ROMS students passed all subjects, with 85% passing the math and reading portions of the exam.

But with standards getting tougher over the next few years, the pressure is on to do even better, especially when it comes to students reaching the “Exceeds” level. The emphasis on testing has often been a cause of concern among parents, students, teachers, administrators, and even state and national officials, as Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently weighed in on the culture of testing in schools.

“In some places, tests – and preparation for them – are dominating the calendars and culture of schools and causing undue stress for students and educators,” Duncan said.

ROMS Principal Cristi Watts agrees with Duncan that the STAAR and EOC (End-of-Course) exams are talked about too much, and supports the idea that the state needs to lower the number of tests given to students each year.

“Teachers and administrators are pressured by the test because we want all of the kids to do their best, and not fail,” Watts said.

Watts said the State of Texas Board of Education is working to lower the number of tests, as well as cut down the time allotted for the test, along with the number of questions.

Christopher Thompson, an 8th grade Pre-Algebra and Algebra teacher, said there’s more stress on students today than in years past.

“The tests are definitely harder than  they were for us, because of the changing environment of schools and testing,” Thompson said. “They had to adapt to the changing environment, consequently making the test harder.”

There are some students, however, who actually look forward to testing. Seventh grader Hannah Perales said she feels confident when she passes the assessments and sees them as a way for her to grow even stronger as a student.

“It lets the teachers know faster if you’re struggling,” she added.

Like Perales, 8th grader Ryan Pickard sees the benefits of the assessments that are given.

“I don’t care for the tests myself, but I do think they are necessary for students to take, and there are just the right amount,” Pickard said.

But 7th grade ELAR teacher Kimberly Sosa thinks the tests fail in one key area: assessing students who learn in different ways.

“They are too standardized,” Sosa said. “The tests don’t allow students with different learning styles to do their best.”

2016 STAAR testing dates

Tuesday, March 29

  • 7th grade writing
  • 8th grade math
  • English I EOC

Wednesday, March 30

  • 8th grade reading

Monday, May 9

  • 7th grade math
  • 8th grade math retest

Tuesday, May 10

  • 7th grade reading
  • 8th grade reading retest

Wednesday, May 11

  • 8th grade science

Thursday, May 12

  • 8th grade social studies

Tuesday, June 21

  • 8th grade math retest

Wednesday, June 22

  • 8th grade reading retest