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.
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.
- “The STAAR Test: What Moms Need to Know,” Inga Cotton, Alamo City Moms Blog, November 10, 2014
- “Skip the STAAR? A closer look at standardized testing,” Inga Cotton, Alamo City Moms Blog, March 25, 2015
- “‘Meet Me at Clarity’: Children’s Mental Health at Clarity Child Guidance Center,” Inga Cotton, Alamo City Moms Blog, October 6, 2016
- North East ISD 2017 Legislative Agenda Position Paper: Accountability and Assessment
- “Uncontested Elections for School Boards in Alamo Heights ISD and North East ISD,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, March 2, 2018