ONLY ON 4: Standardized Testing Not Making The Grade

The classroom, a special place where children learn everything from how to spell their own name, to how to function in society.

It's a place where parents expect their children to get the tools they need to succeed.But is that happening?

Melanie Santiago is a sophomore at Early College High School in Harlingen.

"No body has time to study what we have to study to get a good grade on the test," said Santiago.

On the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness or STAAR test, statewide results from June show Texas students performed the worst in English.

68% of students passed the English I reading test.

Only 55% passed the English I writing assessment.

Cassandra Ramos is Melanie's math teacher.

"It's just a lot of emphasis on one test," said Ramos.

She is among a growing group of educators who believe too much time is spent on teaching students what's on a test, leaving little wiggle room to bring the entire class up to speed.

"Sometimes if they didn't get it, we just have to keep going and then that causes more problems later," said Santiago.

President of the Texas Association of School Administrators Jeff Turner admits there are obstacles.

"We have a system that was set up basically in the 19th century to rank and sort kids and that system, in a lot of places, we're still doing the same thing today," said Turner.

Point Isabel Superintendent Dr. Lisa Garcia tells Action 4 News, more needs to be done.

"We want to create students who are thinkers and who are critical problem solvers and that's difficult to measure that type of learning on a STAAR test," said Garcia.

Many educators believe teaching to the mostly multiple choice STAAR test, causes students to learn answers, instead of concepts they can use in the real world.

"Robbing valuable time from us," said Turner.

So, are education officials doing their part at the Texas state capitol in Austin?

Are they making sure students in the valley have the tools they need in the classroom, to get ahead in the future?

We took those questions right to the source, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams.

"Tax payers want to know they're getting a bang for their buck and parents want to know how their kid is doing, compared to youngsters in China and India. And the kid wants to know how he or she is doing compared to he or she sitting next to them," said Williams.

But right now that's not happening.

"The assessment system is a problem and we think that needs to be changed," said Williams.The changes are still on the table and while most administrators agree testing needs an overhaul, McAllen ISD Superintendent Hilda Garza-Deshazo is among the many who don't want it to disappear.

"I think there has to be some kind of accountability Joey. I feel that there has to be some kind of testing but I think what worries administrators is what the results do," said Garza-Deshazo.

Bad results fail a kid who is not good at testing, on subject matter that the state says students need to get to college.

"It's funny that it's supposed to, we're all about career and college readiness yet no single employer nor college ever uses the test that we give in Texas. They don't come and say how did you do on that STAAR test?"

Not all students want to go to college, but Commissioner Williams said the schools are still responsible for giving children the resources they need, to get to a higher level.

So Harlingen CISD and McAllen ISD, two of 23 districts in the state, are working on the problem, developing new ways to measure learning in the classroom.

"Number one, teachers will have a sense of confidence that the standards that we've set are aligned with the curriculum and the curriculum is in line with the test. Then they will have confidence to teach the curriculum and their youngsters will be able to move forward."

Changing accountability, to make it less confusing for everyone involved.

"It's a bit nerve racking because it tends to use words that most people aren't familiar with and it tricks you a little bit," said Santiago.

The two districts will make recommendations to the commissioner in four key areas:Digital learning, setting learning standards, multiple assessments, and local control, designing programs based on the community's needs and by getting parents involved.

The idea is to come up with a test that gives students a platform to prove they understand concepts, instead of showing they can memorize answers.

The current STAAR test may not be the answer, but at least for now, it's the rule.

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymond Paredes told Action 4 News he is not satisfied with the way education is performing in the state at any level.

He said schools are getting better, but not fast enough.

Paredes even told the State Senate, teachers are not adequately trained to prepare students for standardized testing.

In the end, it's up to lawmakers to decide how students in the Rio Grande Valley are tested.