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Students School Senators on Failings of Texas’ Testing Regime

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High school students pose during Tuesday's Senate Education Committee hearing.
Twitter user @TXScienceSTAT
High school students pose during Tuesday's Senate Education Committee hearing.

From headaches to frantic studying between football games, students at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon described the troubles they endure under Texas’ testing regime.

Today’s hearing on standardized test reform drew an unusually large contingent of students to the Senate Education Committee room, to share their own experiences. Several were particularly glad to be there because Tuesday was a benchmark testing day at their school.

Senate Education chairman Dan Patrick called the hearing without any particular bill to discuss—he said Tuesday morning he may introduce testing reforms as floor amendments to his bill reworking high school graduation plans. The morning was dedicated to grilling Texas Education Agency staff and officials from Pearson, the company that writes and manages Texas’ STAAR test. The afternoon, though, was given over to testimony from a worried public, particularly students.

Macala Carroll, one of four students to testify from Stratford High School in Spring Branch ISD, said the students who’ll be affected by the Legislature’s decisions are often left out of the conversation.

“Y’all talk about us, but no one talks to us,” Carroll said, adding that even teachers don’t understand how to prepare students for the tests. “It’s a big old mystery. No one knows what’s going on.”

Natasha Reid, another Stratford High School student, said that STAAR tests are too difficult and don’t appropriately test students’ knowledge of a given subject. “I felt like I needed a dictionary on the STAAR math test,” Reid said.

Younger students said the tests cause their classmates to cry, throw up and ultimately despise school. McKinney fourth grader Gracie Bain said some days her class writes for three hours, just to prepare for their real tests, and she often comes home with headaches. “I feel that when I write … I break down,” she said.

Her sister Elise, a middle school student, said school days are crammed with work, and she feels the pressure to perform for the tests. “It makes me feel sad,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I don’t want to learn anymore.”

Manor High School student Tyree Ihonvbere said the testing demands make it harder for him to focus on learning.

“I’m not that great of a test taker, but I excel in class,” Ihonvbere said. “This test keeps taking things away. … I try to study between football games.”

The committee’s chair, Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), greeted the students enthusiastically. “I had no idea that it was going to get this good,” he said. Testifying was a great civics lesson for the students, he added later.

Steve Swanson, a parent, retired business owner and volunteer in East Austin schools, said the committee should go further, and invite kids from both high and low performing schools to testify.

“I’ve discovered a lot of greatness in what we call low-performing,” Swanson said.