Hudson ISD superintendent's 'New Vision' shifts focus away from STAAR test

Mary Ann Whiteker (Source: KTRE Staff)
Mary Ann Whiteker (Source: KTRE Staff)
The kids are adapting to a "21st Century Learning Organization" (Source: KTRE Staff)
The kids are adapting to a "21st Century Learning Organization" (Source: KTRE Staff)
The kids are able to collaborate through technology (Source: KTRE Staff)
The kids are able to collaborate through technology (Source: KTRE Staff)
7th grade science teacher Misty Mitchell says not stressing the STAAR test gives kids a chance to hone on their skills (Source: KTRE Staff)
7th grade science teacher Misty Mitchell says not stressing the STAAR test gives kids a chance to hone on their skills (Source: KTRE Staff)

HUDSON, TX (KTRE) - As part of her "New Vision" for the future of the Hudson Independent School District, Superintendent Mary Ann Whiteker posted a letter on the HISD Web site on Thursday, which said teachers and staff will no longer be "teaching to the test" in regard to the State Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exam.

"Hudson ISD will continue to expect students to meet the state standards; however, the state assessment will no longer drive our curriculum or instruction," Whiteker said in her letter. "We have not lowered our student expectations; we have changed the focus, a quality education for the 21st century."

Whiteker said the idea for the "21st Century Learning Organization" happened about three years ago when she became aware of a movement in North Texas.

"It was the realization that we were a part of a system that was driven by the test and I began to realize that I was part of the problem," Whiteker said.

Whiteker, who was named the Region VII superintendent of the year in the summer of 2013, said that Hudson ISD will no longer purchase banners or plaques that imply that the district has a recognized or exemplary campus based on student performance on one state-mandated standardized test.

"I think the original intent of this system was a good intent and that was to make sure we are addressing gaps in our education system and closing those gaps," Whiteker said. "However, it began to turn into a system that was pitting schools against schools, teachers against teachers, striving for that ultimate rating for the banner on the wall, the plaque on the wall, rather than 'are we really focusing on quality learning and the diversity and the individualism of our children?'"

She said HISD parents will no longer see STAAR worksheets or test preparation materials among their children's homework assignments.

"Teachers will not be referencing the tests in their classrooms," Whiteker said. "Rigor, purpose, interest, talent, creativity, problem solving, innovation, real-world application, digital access, and collaboration will transform classrooms into centers that promote students owning their learning rather than learning for a test!"

In her letter, Whiteker said "the test" is still around and added that it is "now on steroids!" She said that the 82nd Texas Legislature replaced the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test with the much more rigorous STAAR test. She explained that STAAR now amounts to 15 End-of-Course exams for high school students. In addition, 15 percent of students' test scores impact their final course grade.

Misty Mitchell, a 7th grade science teacher and 6th grade science elective teacher, says they still have to teach the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). But adds that not focusing on the STAAR is beneficial to the student.

"If you stress testing, most of the time, to fit everything in you have to skim some of it off the top, but in the way that we are allowed to present it they can really hone the knowledge after you're finished studying," Mitchell said.

In Mitchell's science elective class, most of the kids work in a computer lab setting with tablets and computers.

"Kids that are in school today, when they graduate they are going to have to use all these skills that they are using in class in any job that they have and some of the jobs that haven't even been invented yet, they will be using those skills also," Mitchell said.

She says even though the kids are still working independently they are collaborating through the technology.

"Using technology allows the kids to use--to get their information from multiple resources at one time really. You can see them switching back and forth from different search engines, different web sites, getting on YouTube to find what they need, which is what they will have to use in the real world," Mitchell said.

The STAAR tests do not measure students' basic knowledge skills, Whiteker said. Instead, the tests are designed to measure college readiness for all students.

"Ironically, colleges and universities never consider these tests as part of the admissions requirements," Whiteker said. "Colleges, as well as the business community, continue to report our students are not prepared to enter either pathway. Students are lacking work ethics, technical skills, problem solving, collaboration, inquiry skills, research, etc."

Whiteker said the state-mandated tests have become "punitive instruments to evaluate teachers, campuses, districts without consideration of available resources, children's interests or talents, the impact of poverty on closing academic gaps and the real world demands critical to the nation's economy."

Hudson Middle School prinicipal Richard Crenshaw says the "21st Century Learning Organization," is an education system that helps them not regurgitate knowledge and information.

"What are you going to have to have in place to deliver the traditional knowledge, you know, which is your TEKS to your students and what would your delivery system look like? And so that's where the 21st century comes in. It's the way in which you deliver the information to the students, which makes it more meaningful," Crenshaw said.

Whiteker said the state accountability ratings, which are based on STAAR results, are misleading.

"Campuses and districts have been designated as low performing based on the performance of one sub-group on one test - math, reading, science, writing, or social studies - in one grade level," Whiteker said. "That same sub-group could have performed extremely well in another subject area in that same grade, having no impact on the campus/district rating."

In her letter, Whiteker also said the misrepresentation of the test results and campus/district ratings could have a major influence on voucher legislation that will likely be proposed in the next legislative session.

As part of the "new vision" for HISD, the district will focus on five goals: digital learning, 21st century learning standards, multiple forms of assessment, accountability that is not focused on one state test, and transforming the district into a 21s century learning organization.

"We are asking the community to support this new direction," Whiteker said. "The quality of our schools should be based on the many varied accomplishments of our students and the exemplary programs provided by our exemplary staff, not a state accountability rating based on state assessments administered prior to the end of the school year."

Whiteker said public school districts' accountability should be determined by local communities, not the state or federal government.

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