Millions of STAARS

Free your child blog is my quiet little way of protesting what is happening to children everywhere.  At the root of starting a democratic Sudbury model school in 2001 and then becoming a Waldorf teacher in 2007 and helping to start a new Waldorf school in 2009 in my area was my fervent refusal to hand over my children to the public school system when they became kindergartners. Why?  Because our system is broken.

As a public school teacher in my early twenties, I felt that our public schools in Texas were being ruined by high-stakes testing and I see no improvement in that regard since the 1990’s, only further decline and the federal institution of No Child Left Untested.

The State of Texas and the Texas Education Agency require all Texas children to take the STAAR test.  Millions of kids will take the STARR again this year, at all levels.  It is a powerful industry, the money involved with these tests.  STAAR is required for graduation and the TEA says parents have no right to opt out, even if parents morally oppose the testing regime.  The dominance of these testing practices are derailing the work of good teachers and ruining schools, not to mention the joy of learning for children.  Now that I am seeing my high school age sons take part in the public school system after being in private schools for their grade school years, I am even more firmly of the belief that this over-emphasis on one test is ruining schools.

Elementary children have the most to lose with the over-focus on standardized testing.  To fit in the needed time for test prep, school districts have to throw out too many activities and subjects that young children need to thrive and that help them take joy in learning. Middle school and high school students have the same to lose too, but I think it is even more damaging for the youngest of children, who face the longest journey ahead in dealing with the mind-numbing effects.

Goodbye to what used to be “kindergarten.” The old first grade curriculum we all grew up with is now pushed down to the preschool level and kindergarten level. All that pretend play kids used to do in kindergarten had to go.  Teachers have to get their students reading, writing and doing arithmetic as fast as possible.

Sorry kid, say goodbye fingerpainting.  Goodbye class plays and playing dress up, discovering music, and more: fewer field trips, less time for that hands-on science experiments.

I’m sure the list could go on of what else has been thrown out with the bathwater.

The American public stood behind our lawmakers when they instituted standardized testing perhaps because everyone knew about the problem of social promotion.  Everyone knew that schools were graduating kids that could not read or do math and that this was a problem we knew we could not leave unaddressed.  But we have gone way too far in the direction of basing our entire purpose of the schools on one single test.

Parents may finally be waking up to this and taking action, as you can read in the Dallas Morning News or the Houston Chronicle about parents who are opting out.  Though anything you read put out by the Texas Education Agency or schools districts will promptly point out that parents have no right to opt out of state tests.     Change needs to happen at the state level.   I don’t imagine change coming from the teachers, as most probably fear losing their jobs if they are too vocal about their criticisms of the test.

I think the “opting out” parents are trying to make a point, and I admire that.  But, I think if people truly want change, they will need to find and elect leaders who share their views and more people could contact their state representatives, demanding change.  The districts have no power to overturn these state regulations alone, but active, vocal voters do.

Could we at least summon the nerve to demand a more humane, holistic and balanced approach to assessment and protect the youngest children in their rights to have a childhood? To play?

The other thing parents can do, is take their children out of the public schools, especially in the younger grades, or never place them there at all.  This is a financial sacrifice many cannot afford to make, but many parents find ways for their children’s sake to make it possible.
Listen to a KPFT story about parents who opted out.



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