President's Message

The Classroom Teacher, spring 2014

by Grace Mueller, 2013-14 TCTA state president

Last month, along with many of you, I “actively monitored” the first round of STAAR testing for my eighth graders. I was able to study their faces as they tackled the test that would determine their admittance to high school.

Their normally exuberant faces had furrowed brows of frustration and tightened, straight lips of determination. The struggling readers’ eyes showed desperation that reached deep inside their souls. It broke my heart to see their confidence that we had worked so hard on falter.

But my students faced the challenge head on and worked steadfastly to the very last problem and passage. I am very proud of them, no matter what the score.

Testifying on the TEKS

In late March, I was invited to testify before the House Public Education Committee on the depth and breadth of each grade level’s TEKS. TCTA members across the state were given a survey to help me with my testimony. Your voice was very clear — something needs to change. Your comments and ideas were the foundation of my testimony and gave my presentation credibility. Thank you for all your comments.

Teachers are not afraid of the depth of our TEKS. In fact, most relish the challenge of digging deeper and making the standards come to life for the student in real-world formats. However, teaching to the depth that the TEKS require takes time for mastery. More often, TEKS are covered but not mastered.

The time constraints placed on teachers to make sure all the TEKS are “taught” before the standardized test often allow for only surface learning. The result is that students are not always prepared for the one-day test that occurs in the early spring. Moreover, each year, students have to be retaught TEKS that were not truly mastered, which in turn puts everyone behind in teaching the current year’s standards. It’s a frustrating cycle for the students and the teachers!

New standards consider mastery time

So what is happening with the TEKS on the state level right now? During the day’s testimonies, Monica Martinez from TEA said that the newly revised math TEKS have been reworked to take into account the time available to teach them to mastery. Only time will tell if this is true; the real test is in the actual teaching of the standards.

When asked what time frame they used for the mastery of the new math TEKS — the April test or the end of May — the reply was the end of May. A committee member then asked that the State Board of Education add an item to its next meeting agenda to address designing TEKS that can be completed by testing time.

At that next meeting, held in April, SBOE members discussed instructing TEKS review committees to consider whether all of the TEKS can be taught by the end of the course, or by the end-of-course tests if the course is tested.

The future of TEKS and testing

The question of what to do to remedy the problems we have with the TEKS has a myriad of answers. In a perfect world, students would be able to show mastery in a variety of real-world applications throughout the whole school year. However, we have to deal with what is at hand.

One proposal made during the testimony and that TCTA has advocated was to further reduce the number of tests to match, rather than exceed, the requirements of NCLB, or at least to reduce the number of tests in the lower grades, as was done at the high school level during the 2013 session.

The results of the TCTA member survey indicated that reducing the number of TEKS or reducing the number of TEKS tested would help give students time to master the material. A quick fix would be to move the test to the end of the school year so the last two months can be used to master the standards. The drawback is that scores would not come in while school is in session. That doesn’t work for Student Success Initiative grade levels, when decisions must be made regarding promotions to the next grade level.

You have several ways to make your voice heard on the issues surrounding the TEKS. You can contact your SBOE member. You can apply to be nominated to the TEKS review committees in your curriculum area. And you can contact your state legislators. Given that reviewing the breadth and scope of TEKS was among the House Public Education Committee’s interim charges, TEKS will likely be an issue next session.

While our students are our first priority when it comes to choosing the best solutions, we also have to think about how Texas’ NCLB waiver will affect teacher evaluations in relation to students’ scores. As part of the waiver, the commissioner committed to including growth on student tests as a significant factor in our evaluations.

With this, the pressure of scoring well on a one-day test will only increase. However, this is not yet a “done deal,” and TCTA will continue to resist this invalid measure for determining teacher effectiveness. TCTA will continue to keep members informed of changes and developments at the state and federal levels, and to advocate for a reasonable system of accountability that is designed to help our students learn and thrive.