Teresa Sanders

Now that the winter holiday break is over, the push to prepare for standardized testing in the spring has begun. Teachers and students across Texas are practicing strategies, showing their work and justifying answers in preparation for that marvelous indicator of teacher effectiveness and student achievement, the almighty STAAR test. Note: The sarcasm attached to the statement is intentional.

Teachers and students collectively share the angst and anxiety of preparing for and taking the STAAR test. For teachers, maturity and life experiences allows them to compartmentalize test related stress and manage the stress effectively. However, students, especially younger students, have a harder time managing the stress that accompanies testing. A lot of the anxiety these students experience is unintentionally passed to them by well-meaning but unaware teachers.

When my own son was in elementary school, he experienced what was reported to me as “a tearful experience” after taking a practice TAKS (The predecessor of STAAR) test. A talented, high performing student, my son did not perform as well as he felt he should have on the practice test. He fell apart in class. I was never told about the incident until well after the fact. His teacher explained that my son was aware of how important the test was to the teacher, school and district was and that she was depending on him to earn a commended performance.

It was then I realized how teachers’ expectations of student performance can add anxiety that could derail our students rather than help their achievement. I was very upset that my son was burdened with the responsibility to do well on the test for the teacher, school and district as opposed to demonstrating what he learned all year. That was the purpose of the test after all, wasn’t it?

A colleague recently shared with me her third grader was in tears because the results of an assessment she didn’t do well on would “be seen by everybody in Austin.” Why would a third- grade student care anything about what goes on in Austin? Perhaps a well-meaning educator expressed that the results of her exam would be reviewed by important people and would reflect poorly on either her, the teacher, school or district. That stress is not for an eight-year- old to carry.

Because of my son’s experience, I gave him permission to do his best for himself and to not worry about anything or anyone else. As we move into STAAR season, maybe we can remind students to do their best for themselves and let the results be whatever they will be. Our students carry enough burdens of their own. The added responsibility to make the teacher or school look good is unfair and counterproductive to outcomes.

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