I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as I read these words from the fifth or sixth page of instructions to seventh-graders taking the writing State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test on April 2. One page of writing — 26 lines — and an admonition not to deviate from very narrow parameters struck me as a metaphor for the testing machine in Texas.
If the goal was to create a more rigorous assessment, STAAR has failed. STAAR’s predecessor, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), required students to write a two-page, well-elaborated essay. Those who followed a basic formula (introduction, explain your topic in detail, conclusion) scored reasonably well. TAKS didn’t produce the Great American Novel, but it expected students to generate and organize coherent, connected examples on a particular topic. They were also encouraged to write with style, including complex sentence structure and engaging vocabulary in their essays. Throughout the year, I taught my students to be effective writers, and on test day they simply had to apply those skills to whatever topic was given to them.
The story you’re reading is premium content from the Austin American-Statesman. Subscribers get total access to all our in-depth news, digital editions and exclusive premium content. You can also buy a 24-hour digital pass or 7-day digital pass.
Read MyStatesman.com now — 24-hour digital pass99¢ for 24-hours
Read MyStatesman.com all week — 7-day digital pass$3.99 for 7-days
Subscribe to the Statesman for as little as 33¢ per dayView Offers
For Subscribers: Register your account for digital access.Access Digital
For Subscribers: Sign in here if you have already registered your account.Sign In
Melissa McCann Cooper teaches language arts at Murchison Middle School in Austin.