For three students in Carey Johnson’s English II Leadership class, coming up with a policy issue they wanted to address, that equally mattered to all three of them, was difficult at first.
It was difficult because when it comes to politics and philosophy, Elena Michnovicz, Bailey Buchanan and Elissa Chotas could not be more different. They found, however, that one thing they were universally opposed to was the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR.
The project required the girls to exhaustively research this policy using a variety of credible sources, to create a research-based solution to the policy issue, to create a powerful presentation outlining their research and solution, and to present their findings to a panel of professionals.
The result of all this hard work was a presentation titled, “The Fault in Our STAAR.”
The three Clear Brook High School students shared everything they had learned during a recent meeting of the Bay Area Schools Consortium. The consortium is composed of 10 districts in Galveston and Harris counties with more than 140,000 students. The districts included in the consortium are: Clear Creek, Dickinson, Friendswood, Galveston, Hitchcock, La Porte, Pasadena, Santa Fe and Texas City.
At this most recent meeting December 5, the Bay Area Schools Consortium outlined its top 10 challenges and concerns to state representatives for the upcoming legislative session.
The students also made it their goal to find a worthier test – a test based on the actual mastery of skill and not simply comprehension, Elissa Chotas said.
The girls argue that there has to be a better way to assess student progress without infringing on the unique learning opportunities a student can have.
“It places unnecessary stress on students,” Bailey Buchanan said.
Through their research, the students also believe the STAAR test does not measure what it was intended to.
“The reading sections are supposed to measure comprehension of passages,” Bailey Buchanan said. “But really it is just a game of trying to guess the answers from clues.”
On last year’s STAAR test, 9th grade students were asked to write about what a true friend is, she said.
“That’s a topic that’s way below level,” Bailey Buchanan said.
Their research also revealed two assessments that the girls believe would serve both students and teachers better.
One is the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the other is the PISA Financial Literacy Test.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.
“It has straightforward questions, measures comprehension and is developmentally appropriate,” Elissa Chotas said.
It’s also a significantly shorter test compared to STAAR and measures a student’s year-long improvement.
The PISA Financial Literacy Assessment focuses on real world application.
“We failed it miserably,” Bailey Buchanan said.
This test can be used to gauge how well students master knowledge of important life skills.
“From this, I learned how to read bills and taxes,” Elena Michnovicz said. “If STAAR was designed to measure mastery of skill, it failed us.”
And if one student isn’t benefiting from this type of assessment, that’s one too many, the students said.
“We don’t learn or grow from STAAR,” Bailey Buchanan said. “Why don’t we have a test that allows us to learn and grow?”
Since presenting their project to a panel of local professionals and now the Bay Area Schools Consortium, the girls have been asked to meet with Sen. Larry Taylor, now for a second time.
“They are incredibly committed to changing testing in Texas,” said Carey Johnson, the students’ teacher. “Through this project, they have become very knowledgeable about the state of testing in Texas.”