Learning, Connections, STAAR #AprilBlogaDay

One 3-day weekend and I’ve already slacked in keeping up with the #AprilBlogaDay challenge, but I’m combining THREE posts in to one short and sweet post to make up for it.

Day 3’s suggested prompt asked:  What is a teacher’s most important professional responsibility outside of the classroom?

When I read the prompt, I knew my answer immediately:  I believe the most important professional responsibility a teacher has outside the classroom is to keep learning.  And while I know teachers learn things from their students almost daily, I believe this learning should be active learning.  This could be by way of attending professional development, taking graduate classes, participating in social media educator chats (#edchat), or by just carrying out self-initiated research.  Regardless of the method, the intention should be to absorb as much information as possible and keep your brain thinking about what could be next whether it be in your classroom, community, or culture.

I’m combining Day 4 & 5’s prompts because I think they’re easily related:

4: Think about a moment in your teaching experience where there was a “connection” between you and a student or group of students that resonated beyond content

5: What practice, tradition, instructional strategy or anything else “must die”?  What needs to stop in order for Education to move forward?

Recently, I think one of the biggest connections I have made is showing my students that I am one of many people trying to change things regarding our state testing system, and that their voices matter.  You may or may not be familiar with the viral videos that various Texas teachers/schools made in order to get their students “pumped up for STAAR testing”.  The videos were basically parodies and involved teachers singing and dancing to popular songs with lyrics changed to address the upcoming tests.  I showed my kids the videos, and many of them said the videos actually made them sad.  When I asked why, they said it’s because teachers are making light of something that students must take very seriously.  Now, keep in mind the original audience for the videos were middle school and/or elementary students, and I teach high school.  While I truly believe the intention behind the videos was positive, it just didn’t sit well with my students or me.  So I made my own video and posted it to a popular facebook page and then eventually to YouTube.  When I showed my students my reaction to STAAR, many of them thanked me, some even stayed after class and asked for the link address.  I’ve also received many encouraging messages from parents, students, and teachers from across the state.

This year more than ever, my students have watched me fight for better assessments, and know that there are conversations happening that could impact their future.  I think being honest and keeping my students informed has been the strongest connection I have made as a teacher.

That being said, I don’t think it’s a big surprise when I say I believe that the “tradition that must die in order for education to move forward” is that we must stop putting so much emphasis on testing and start placing more emphasis on teachers and students.

I do believe there is a place for assessments in education, but they should be daily and formative, not high-stakes like the 5 tests our Texas students must pass in order to graduate.  I find it very ironic that our state colleges and universities DO NOT consider STAAR scores when making admission decisions, so it is beyond me why they should determine anything at the high school level.  There has been so much talk about holding schools and students “accountable” for their learning and that they must be able to “show what they know”, and yet we are not holding Pearson Education, Inc. accountable for a flawed testing system.  I think it pretty much goes without saying that testing is not the only way to show what students have learned.

As mentioned in my previous posts, the STAAR tests have undergone significant changes (some say improvements) in the past 3 years, and students have done their best to adapt to the changes.  Texas students have basically been used to test the tests, and instead of receiving compensation, they have instead paid with their time, energy, and stress.

In order for education to move forward in Texas, SB 149, HB 742, 743, & 1164, all of which reduce the stakes tied with testing, must pass, and the STAAR tests must be addressed properly for what they are:  a major mistake.

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