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"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela

Is There A Solution to the STAAR Problem?

By Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D. |  January 26, 2017  Texas Insider

Recently Texas State Rep. Jason Isaac, vice chair of the Texas Conservative Coalition & State Representative from House Dist. 45, told Texas Insider Jim Cardle that teachers are spending 46 days of the school year preparing their students to take the STAAR test.

To give teachers relief, Isaac said members of the Coalition are working on “some reform ideas that will give individual districts the ability to choose a nationally-normed, standardized test that meets our state laws, meaning no Common Core.”

However, not every school is spending 25% of the academic year in test cramming. During my visit to Great Hearts of Irving, a classical charter school, I asked how they prepare their students for the STAAR.   Great Hearts Academies  co-founder, Dr. Daniel P. Scoggin, and Julie Linn, Senior Vice President of Advancement and Development of Great Hearts Texas, explained how differently they prepare for the test.  Great Hearts’ teachers spend only one day in preparationnot 46 – during which time they simply instruct students about the details of taking the test.

At Great Hearts the traditional teacher centered approach without computerized learning is used.  Each day is spent -- not in group projects -- but in teacher-led learning with students eagerly participating, showing an amazing level of deep thinking and oral communication.  Because each class is content focused, students are well prepared for the STAAR test without 46 days of test cramming.

The Great Hearts’ learning environment is in stark contrast to that of most public schools across the nations (yes in Texas) where a Common Core-compliant teaching strategy -- the collaborative approach --  with student-led learning and digital learning is the norm!  A hot education fad using the collaborative approach is Project Based Learning, an early to mid-20th century Progressive retread.

Proponents of student-led learning boast its benefits: deeper thinking, higher level learning, higher level thinking, oral communication, self management, and leadership skills. 

However, students paint another picture.

Education policy writer, Maureen Downey, interviewed various students and found their chief complaint was not homework, but rather classrooms controlled by students.  They preferred the traditional teacher-centered classroom because they think  

·they could learn twice as much in half the time because teachers allow students to disrupt classroom discussions,

·too much time is sacrificed to irrelevant chatter or tangents in group work, and

·group projects allow students to end up being in charge of the classroom, leading to “diminished learning.”

The students also said they hate group projects and cannot understand why their schools are so enthusiastic about them.  According to the students, there is an unwritten goal about group projects.  Students want to be placed in a group with academic achievers because they will do all the work to get good grades while the others are free riders receiving unearned credit.

 Getting rid of STAAR is not going to solve the problem.

 The fact remains that no matter how well meaning Texas lawmakers are, as long as students are wasting time in activities that are not engaging them in learning academic content, teachers will continue cram courses to prepare students to take any standardized test -- whether STAAR or an alternative.

This issue over alternate tests will be a hot potato as the 2017 Texas Legislature reviews the “Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability Report,” which addresses the implementation of the new federal law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and alternate tests.

Passed in 2015 and scheduled to be implemented during the 2017–18 school year, ESSA requires states to conduct standardized testing for students in grades three through eight and in high school. Local school districts receiving permission from the state may use the SAT or ACT tests to fulfill the high school testing requirement.

Obviously thinking they were hitching their wagon to a star, both SAT and ACT aligned their tests to the highly criticized Common Core.  They were unprepared for the public furor as many parents, government officials, and education advocates found the Common Core aligned SAT and Act unacceptable.    

One of the content-specific complaints against Common is the move away from classical literature toward more “technical” writing and the rejection of many traditional Western views of history, political philosophy and economics.

If states don’t want to use SAT or ACT, they can create their own standardized tests.

In Texas we already have our own standardized test that measures the knowledge and skills considered essential for centuries in Western nations -- the STAAR test. 

However, since the Texas Conservative Coalition wants an alternative to STARR, they now have another option that is not Common Core aligned -- the Vector Assessment of Readiness for College (Vector ARC). 

Vector ARC  markets their product as a better and cheaper alternative to SAT and ACT.  They also believe that, “By offering an alternative assessment to both SAT and ACT, students who have selected an education not based on Common Core, will no longer be penalized in their college applications by being forced to take a test that aligns with CCSS.”  Vector says their product tests students on information needed to be successful in college and in life, with a focus on classical Western education standards.

The rush to align the long entrenched SAT and ACT to Common Core may well result in rendering these tests obsolete in many states that won’t stand for Common Core.  For the free market, this can be a golden opportunity for unknown college entrance exams to rise to prominence.

What You Can DoTexas House     Texas Senate

·Stop blaming the STAAR test and hold school districts responsible for using failed Progressive Common Core-compliant teaching strategies designed to indoctrinate -- not educate.

·Continue with STAAR but if they want an alternative, use Vector ARC and not Common Core aligned tests, SAT and ACT.

· Support school choice for alternatives to traditional public education.


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