Every Friday, Vincent Sanders checks his daughter’s folder from school. He often finds review sheets for the STARR exam.
He’s worried she’s spending too much time practicing for the test.
“We want our children to do their best and we want them to be prepared. But we also want our children to learn. School is not a Kaplan or a Princeton review. It’s a place where they can learn.”
Sanders is with Community Voices for Public Education. Last year the group successfully got the Houston school board to sign a resolution against high stakes testing.
But Sanders and other parents are worried about all the practice tests for STAAR.
This Thursday they’re giving the Houston school board a petition with more than one thousand signatures asking to limit how often those tests are given.
“We’re going to go back to them and we’re going to say that we were here last year. You heard our concerns. Are you with us?”
The practice tests are also called benchmark exams. Nancy Gregory is the curriculum and instruction officer at HISD. She says the practice tests are not graded but are meant to gauge students’ progress.
“People like to call it a dip stick. It helps campuses measure, ‘Oh my gosh, how are these kids going to do on the third grade reading STAAR test?’”
She says the district gave practice exams just once last November. She says it’s up to individual campuses if they want to drill more.
HISD teacher Jim Faber says last year his class was taking a practice exam almost every Friday. He felt pressure to drill because so much rides on that final STAAR score.
“They have so much weight in how we’re ranked and whether we’re deemed good at our jobs or effective in the classroom level, at the principal-ship level, at the school level, that our hand feels forced.”
State Rep. Mike Villarreal — a Democrat from San Antonio — recently surveyed districts. He found some schools are so worried about how their students will perform on the STARR that they devote up to 40 days of the whole school year to prepare.
That preparation isn’t fun from what his daughter describes. He reads her account.
“We had to sit for five hours. I finished my test in two hours. And I couldn’t even read a book. My legs fell asleep. They didn’t let me read until way after lunch. I checked my work five times. We didn’t have PE or recess.”
His daughter is nine years old and in the third grade.
“That’s unacceptable. That’s not instruction. That’s torture. Adults don’t even subject themselves to that kind of treatment.”
Villarreal wants a statewide limit so there would be only two practice exams for every subject.
That limit is now part of a major education bill making its way through the Texas Legislature.