On Jan. 6, the Texas Education Agency released a new A-F grading system to rate school performance. Since we allegedly don’t educate people like we should, they had to dumb it down to letter grades because the terms “met standard” and “improvement required” are too difficult to understand.
The commissioner states that these grades are provisional and a work in progress. Yes, they are. There are five domains, and they went ahead and released the grades to the public without the fifth domain completed.
Now, mind you, this is all from one test, one day out of the entire year. For those of you who chose a different career, let me break this down for you:
I teach 126 kids.
11 are English language learners.
9 have learning disabilities.
83 are minority.
45 are low-socioeconomic.
I am supposed to teach 81 items called TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills).
If I am lucky, I will get 131 hours with them to do all of this.
Now, I am not complaining about any of that. I will teach and love any student who walks in my room. But I want you to have a glimpse of what my classroom looks like.
STAAR was implemented in 2012 and is an extremely difficult test. So, every year, Texas likes to brag about their rigorous test, and then the scores are awful so they lower the passing rate. So instead of 70 being a passing score, it is a 46. So when we say 96 percent of our students passed, they very well could have made a 47. In other words, the data are ridiculous. They threaten to raise the passing standard every year, but don’t do it because then we all look stupid. And no one, even legislators in Austin, likes to look stupid! What is even better is that they set the passing standard after the tests are graded. They have actually lowered the passing standard and then bragged that more students passed the test. It reminds me of the production standards described in George Orwell’s 1984.
So, we teach a ridiculous number of TEKS, not knowing if they will ask 1, 3, 7, or no questions at all over that topic, and hope we teach it in the way they worded it on the test. One year I taught eighth-grade US History, which covers the time from colonization to Reconstruction and they didn’t ask a single question over the Revolutionary War or the Civil War. Not a single question out of 52. They asked four over the Monroe Doctrine. Go ahead and Google it…I’ll wait.
These new A-F school grades are based on the results of the 2016 STAAR test, which, if you remember from previous news stories, was a nightmare. There were missing tests, many tests were sent to the wrong places, one school had their boxes delivered by some guy in a pickup who found them on his front porch, some questions did not have a correct answer choice, many tests were incorrectly graded by the testing administrator who was paid billions of dollars by taxpayers, and tens of thousands had their completed online tests disappear into cyberspace.
Using the old system, 94 percent of schools “met standard” but the new system has only 10 percent making an A. How is this possible? Are we really ALL average? I don’t think so.
What concerns me most is that these grades are public knowledge, and we have a number of public officials who are in favor of school choice and the voucher program. Many schools that these vouchers will support do not have to take these tests and can pick and choose which students they accept. I guarantee most of those classrooms do not, and will not, look like mine. They will look like a better school than mine, and that just simply isn’t true.
So, let’s role play shall we? I am Mrs. Reed, your teacher. You are my student. I try to teach you all I can, but you were absent a couple of days, I don’t cover something like I should have, or you just didn’t comprehend it. I give you one test the entire year. There are five sections. You complete all five sections, but I am only grading four. You complete the test, I lose it and make you take it again, three questions don’t have a correct answer choice, I grade it wrong, and although you have always moved on to the next grade before because you met the standards created by the school, congrats, you get a D. And it will have no explanation attached and it will be on the Internet for everyone to see. Good luck getting into college now!
The abovementioned scenario is for every student, no matter their background. There are those students learning English for the first time who must take the exam in the English language, there are those students with learning disabilities who must take the exact same test as everyone else except for a bigger font, and there are those students who have family and personal issues that greatly affect their ability to perform and have no second chances because this is all about that one test day. We are cheating them and creating an environment of failure.
What this one-day test cannot show you is what high schools really offer. We all learned a lot in high school and I am thankful to have done well in college. I thank my teachers at both levels for being amazing. But I also learned things that have really made me successful, and those things cannot be found in a book—leadership, compassion for others that are different than I am, sports medicine, agriculture, a love for the arts, budgeting business/group, interview skills, etc.
Education is not a test. It is an experience, and you just can’t grade experiences because the variables are too great. So is the outcome.
So what can we do about this problem? Ignore these stupid letter grades, trust that 95 percent of teachers are doing an unbelievable job with our children, realize the state’s data is inaccurate and misleading, and elect new legislators next time around!
Krysta Reed is a social studies teacher at Andrews High School in Andrews, TX.