The Texas Education Association has decided to administer the STAAR this year. That saddens me not just for the students who will spend the spring semester preparing for it but also for the over-stressed teachers who have worked tirelessly to get students where they need to be this year after losing so much of spring 2020.
Teaching virtually and in-person simultaneously is no easy task. Here at the Tenney School, my math classes are one-on-one and so it doesn’t matter as much whether my students are face to face or connecting virtually. We work at their speed. But even in this best-case scenario, the challenges are greater for the online students. Internet connections can fail; it’s hard to gauge whether students are truly on task; and you cannot always tell how well students are getting the material just by looking at them over a screen. Our small lab sessions, which have a mix of in-person and online learners, tend to be more problematic. Imagine a class of 25 students. As a veteran of large public schools, I can assure you there is no way to meet everyone’s needs in a split environment like that. There’s no way to gauge if students really understand concepts. And more students mean more opportunities for technical breakdowns – for those who even have proper access to technology.
The entire education landscape is different in 2020, and yet TEA plans to do the same thing it has been doing for years. It will test students over objectives that are supposed to be taught. The reality is that most students likely are not ready for grade-level objectives because so much of their schooling has been disrupted by the pandemic.
My brother teaches math in a public high school. Last week he gave his students a district assessment – the same assessment that was given a year ago when we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic. Districts tend to behave like the TEA. Rather than changing to meet the needs of students, they use the same assessments and expect the same results in a very different time.
TEA says that schools and teachers will not be judged on the STAAR results. That is easier said than done. Teachers will spend the spring semester preparing students to take a multiple-choice test. Students who could pass the STAAR right now will be bored all semester, while students who struggle will be overwhelmed and fall further behind.
In a perfect world, teachers would be able to meet the needs of all of their students. But 2020 has added even more hurdles for teachers. It’s time for the TEA and districts to realize this. Rather than spending time and money on STAAR, wouldn’t it be amazing if teachers could spend the spring getting everyone ready for the 2021-22 school year? One can dream.
Patricia Shepherd is a middle school math and elective teacher at The Tenney School. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Speech Communications from Texas A&M University. She also earned a Master of Science Degree in Education Management from the University of Houston – Clear Lake.
Mrs. Shepherd is a retired public school teacher. Before teaching at Tenney, she taught a full career for the Houston Independent School District.