Why I Hate STAAR Test Pep Rallies

I hate STAAR test pep rallies. This bizarre custom reveals a flaw in the culture of so many public schools in Texas. If we can address this problem, it will put us on the right path towards higher quality education and better mental health for our students.

This morning, I dropped my kids off at school. F.T. is in fifth grade and will be taking a STAAR test today. For him, it was just a regular day, except he had minimal homework yesterday—only his nightly reading log. (My daughter, G.N., is in second grade and doesn’t take standardized tests yet.) Their school does not draw any special attention to the STAAR test.

After dropoff, I went for a walk in the park and checked social media on my phone. North East ISD‘s Facebook page proudly presented images of STAAR test pep rallies. I felt disgusted. This sends the wrong message to students. For some, it harms their mental health.

STAAR test pep rallies at North East ISD | San Antonio Charter Moms

If the school is doing their job all year, then the STAAR test should be no big deal. STAAR test pep rallies put the stress on the students, but that’s not where it belongs. The responsibility is on the adults to prepare them for college and careers, and the test is incidental. The process of educating students should last all year long, not just a burst of test-prep frenzy. The schools should be teaching the real stuff, good stuff, not test prep junk.

Why do some schools have STAAR test pep rallies? Let me put on my tinfoil hat and present a theory. As you can see from their 2017 state legislative agenda, the school district does not like the current accountability system. Why? Standardized testing reveals which campuses and which student populations are underperforming. The district would rather that no one know and no one raise a fuss. The school district lobbies every session for the Texas Legislature to weaken standardized testing, but so far the STAAR test is still in place. What else can they do? They can mobilize parents to oppose standardized testing. As the process gets more stressful and uncomfortable, the students get more anxious and sick, and the parents get angrier. Parents who are boiling over with frustration may blame the entire accountability system.

Do STAAR test pep rallies actually raise test scores? I doubt it. Overstimulated, stressed-out kids are not in the right mindset to do well on a test. For sensitive kids like my son, F.T., a noisy pep rally would backfire. Instead of a pep rally, students should get additional unstructured time or recess. We all know that cramming for a test doesn’t work. The only way to succeed is to set high expectations and work consistently over time. And don’t waste money on spirit shirts for STAAR test days.

What if the school district got standardized testing repealed? (Setting aside, for the moment, the issue of federal accountability requirements.) Schools that are failing to educate their students, and populations of students who are being left behind, would continue to operate as usual. That’s not fair to the students attending those schools because they are not becoming proficient in reading, writing, and math. That’s why it’s essential that Texas continue to administer standardized tests to its students.

But standardized testing does not have to be a big deal. Contrasting with the jarring images of STAAR test pep rallies, the caption reads, “Good luck this week, but know you are more than just a test, you are a part of the loving and caring NEISD community that believes in all that you do.” That is exactly the right message. Every student is valuable as a human being, regardless of how they perform on a test. Public schools (including traditional public schools and public charter schools) should act in a way consistent with that message: Stop the STAAR test pep rallies.

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sachartermoms

Parent-activist and education blogger in San Antonio, Texas, USA. Helping parents make informed school choices and explore cultural activities.

5 Comments

  1. Thank you for pointing out that NEISD sent the right message, but why was that finally said at the end? At the beginning you actually say it sends the wrong message. Also, educating students DOES happen all year long. Why would a pep rally make you think otherwise? A pep rally is a fun, light-hearted way to gear up for something. This is an activity that students are accustomed to and respond well to. I think many students would tell you it doesn’t add any pressure.

  2. I appreciate your commenting here. I would like to offer you some feedback from members of my Facebook group.

    When I raised the topic of STAAR test pep rallies, a few parents reported that their children had fun. However, many other parents reported that the pep rallies caused anxiety, headaches, crying, and elevated heart rate. The pep rallies made their children feel nervous, pressured, scared of yelling, and frustrated at the waste of time.

    In recent media reports, representatives of North East ISD have expressed concern about declining enrollment. Some of those articles have mentioned charter schools. (Quotes and links at the bottom.) Please consider my post, and this comment, as a form of constructive feedback for members of the North East ISD community who seek to understand why some families are choosing charter schools. Perhaps, among other things, they were seeking schools that did not have STAAR test pep rallies.

    Quotes and links:

    “Some of our students we’re seeing are now going to charter schools because that seems to be the latest trend,” Chancellor said.
    http://news4sanantonio.com/news/local/north-east-isd-facing-multi-million-dollar-deficit

    “Quite honestly, the biggest impact to the North East school district over the last three to five years has been the influx of charter schools to Bexar County,”Superintendent Brian Gottardy said. “This is by far the number one challenge of the district.”
    “It’s perplexing,” he added. “Parents have a choice where they send their kids, and we’re trying to figure out why so many of them are choosing to go to a public charter school.”
    http://tpr.org/post/north-east-isd-enrollment-declining-officials-blame-influx-charter-schools

    The district attributed much of those student losses to competition from charter schools. Attendance at charter campuses within NEISD increased by 900 students during the 2016-17 school year, [Brian] Moy [NEISD’s executive director of finance and accounting] said.
    Charters had not previously factored heavily into NEISD enrollment projections because they had not had a significant impact and there was little data to rely on, but the district now has adjusted its enrollment projection model so it can better account for charters, he said.
    https://www.expressnews.com/news/education/article/NEISD-faces-budget-shortfall-despite-wealth-12789258.php

  3. I have two kids at a public charter school: BASIS North Central. They don’t have pep rallies. I myself went to a public high school here in town that did hold pep rallies so I experienced them when I wasn’t able to get out of going to them. I am a parent who would not send my kids to a school that has STAAR pep rallies. There are two parts of this for me: (1) pep rallies in general and (2) doing them about the STAAR test. First, I don’t think I’d send my kids to a school that has mandatory pep rallies at all. I found pep rallies in general to be bizarre and off-putting. In a place of learning, what is the point of a bunch of mindless chanting and screaming? Even when I was in high school, I felt like smart, well-educated people shouldn’t do that, and I remember the kids in the honors calculus class always tried to get out of them. Also, one of my own kids suffers in noisy environments. It would be torturous for him. Second, even if I could wrap my head around the pep rally, holding one for STAAR tests would scare me away as a parent. I want a school that is not teaching to a state test. The instruction should be good enough that the kids don’t have to think about the STAAR until the day before when they hear they need to get a good night’s sleep. Holding a STAAR pep rally implies that the education isn’t up to that level, that passing the STAAR is going to take some competitive spirit or screaming before the test. I may not be representative of many parents, but clearly I’m not alone in this. The idea of the STAAR pep rally makes me glad my kids are safely out of all that in BASIS, which incidentally had the highest STAAR results in the city last year.

  4. “When I raised the topic of STAAR test pep rallies, a few parents reported that their children had fun. However, many other parents reported that the pep rallies caused anxiety, headaches, crying, and elevated heart rate. The pep rallies made their children feel nervous, pressured, scared of yelling, and frustrated at the waste of time.“

    This is what I have observed as well.

    “Why would a pep rally make you think otherwise? A pep rally is a fun, light-hearted way to gear up for something. This is an activity that students are accustomed to and respond well to. I think many students would tell you it doesn’t add any pressure.”

    A mandatory pep rally is not fun for everyone, and a STAAR pep rally can ramp up the anxiety to crisis levels for kids that have been drilled for performance, and the school’s expectations of their performance, for MONTHS.

  5. As a teacher, I dreaded test day pep rallies. I never thought it raised test scores or improved attitudes. At one test rally an administrator even said that students should do well on their test so that they could get a good job and buy an expensive car. They projected an image of a luxury vehicle and said “Let this motivate you!”. That is NOT the purpose or goal of education. I left in disgust and for that and many many other reasons I walked away from the school that year.

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