Reflections from an EOC Parent, Part 1

Author:  Collections compiled from a team of Education Specialists

Educators in the state of Texas have undergone quite a few transitions as of late, none-the-least of which was the implementation of STAAR, the new state assessment program.  STAAR arrived with its own unique set of acronyms, characteristics, rules, guidelines, training modules, passing labels and much more. The implications from STAAR reach to graduation plans, course selections, grade point averages, instruction and even course grades (sooner or later).  Along with all of these new details surrounding the assessment itself, we can also add the need to learn new grade level or course TEKS; to revisit the TEKS to be sure our teaching is at the proper depth and complexity; to implement the ELPS and CCRS; to adjust to changes in Special Education, 504, local policy and perhaps even the most pressing: moving into a new classroom. No one is arguing that all of this comes easily; on the contrary, we readily admit our profession can seem overwhelming at times and changes can be clear as mud.  However, as professionals we approach these changes armed with our educational background, varied resources and profession-specific jargon.

Now, let’s consider our parents. 

As we throw around language such as allowable accommodations, EOC, AYP, TEKS, Readiness and Supporting standards, cumulative scores, scale scores, minimum scores, Advanced Performance and myriad other related terms, we sometimes even confuse ourselves. After all, it is similar to learning a new language.  With this in mind, we must be that much more diligent in helping our students and parents understand what is going on and what it means for THEM.

While it takes a village to raise a child, when it comes right down to it most parents, understandably so, are concerned with THEIR child.  Have you found yourself on the delivery side of an explanation sounding something like this yet?

“Well, your student met minimum… but no, that does not mean that they passed the EOC.  No, they are not required to retake the exam even though they did not pass the exam.  However, they may need to retake it in two years. Yes, meeting minimum can be beneficial because if they do well on the next two EOC exams and reach an appropriate cumulative scale score they will not have to retake this exam.  The scale score, however, for your eldest child is this value but your scale score for your next child is actually going to be this. “

Similar conversations will play out in many different ways for many different students and many different circumstances.  Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? We all have the best of intentions and are doing our very best to communicate relevant information in a timely fashion.   In doing so, however, are we certain we aren’t presenting based upon what WE know and the language WE use in our profession more than what may actually be received by those without the same background?

With this in mind, we wondered what the unique point of view of a 1st time EOC parent might be.  This InSight series, “Reflections from an EOC Parent,” aims to offer a glimpse into the minds of those outside of our daily jargon. This, in turn, may offer some insight to help us guide our communication as well as travel this path and learn together.  While all identifying names and institutions have been altered to protect the author’s anonymity, the pure reflection remains the same.  Additionally, the length of the article will vary as a result of the actual parent submissions. Here is the first of our parent reflections on STAAR.

“Initially, I didn’t think that the STAAR/EOC changes this year would impact my family any differently than state testing has in the past. However it did and upon reflection, we are left with question and concern.

First, let me share that my family is made up of three teenage kids. Our oldest is a girl and will be a senior for the year 12-13. We have two 15 year old twin boys who will be sophomores for the year 12-13. With this dynamic, we get to experience navigating school through our daughter two years prior to preparing our sons for what is to be expected. This has been to everyone’s benefit as our daughter is pretty responsible and motivated in school. She doesn’t need a lot of parental guidance to meet the demands of a teenage student. She is for the most part independent. The same cannot be stated for the boys. They are much more reliant on outside support from us as parents to make sure that they are meeting all of the school requirements to be a good student. Due to this pattern, we as parents try our best to anticipate the needs of the boys. Another note worth knowing is that my daughter and one of the twins do very well on the state assessments. However, the other twin struggles in his classes as well as on the state assessments. He skims by most of the state passing criteria in most subjects and has failed the state math (TAKS) every year since 5th grade. He finally passed the math TAKS his 8th grade year on the 2nd attempt.

This year was more difficult because we were not able to follow the lead that our daughter had experienced in STAAR/EOC/TAKS. Since the changes were made after her, we didn’t know what to expect, resulting in more confusion than usual and less ability to support the boys from a parental perspective. The school and district have provided information about the STAAR/EOC assessments on their web pages and through email. However, these are usually copy and paste narratives from TEA or links to the TEA information. This is not “parent friendly” reading in my opinion. When we ask our boys what they know, it is very difficult for them to share any information with us outside of… “I will be taking a test in Math.” They say they were told that the tests were going to be more difficult and they would have to solve more multi-step problems. As far as being able to help the boys study, we were at a disadvantage. We had no way to figure out what they needed to study and what they didn’t. Benchmark tests results were not shared with us (that may be because the boys didn’t share them) so we didn’t know where to spend any study focus. At this point we were left to trust that the school and the teachers were making sure things were in place at school. When I would call and visit to discuss extra tutoring opportunities for the twin that struggles and needed more, I was given dates for\ the week prior to the tests. Since we knew that he needed more than that, we had him tutored privately after school once a week for the entire 2nd semester. I had to come up with my own curriculum of study that I aligned to the TEKs that I knew he would be tested on.

Frustration grew as we quickly figured out that the delay in test results would not be available until the last week of school and in some subjects after school was out. This is extremely difficult for a family because it impacts summer plans that may be interrupted by the potential of summer school, test study sessions, or test retakes. Not to mention, we won’t know if a student who doesn’t pass the STAAR or EOC could be promoted to the next grade. All of this was left up in the air causing anxiety and stress for a child that already finds school frustrating. We received a letter in the mail June 10th with test results for all three kids. Our daughter and one twin did very well. The other twin PASSED the math test. YAY!!! However, he did not pass the reading or geography tests. He failed two out of four tests. That letter also gave us a study session date for each test he needed to retake as well as dates for the test retake. We are still waiting to hear if he passed those test on his second attempt.

My perspective as a parent is that if all three of my children where typical learners, we would have felt that the experience of STAAR/EOC change was not significant. However, we cannot say the same for my son who is a struggling learner. It has been confusing and frustrating trying to make sure we provide what he needs to succeed in school. Even with a twin who experiences everything at the same time as he does, we are still left with questions. There were many times when I would ask questions and the school would respond with, “This is all new and we are learning the processes as we go.” Don’t get me wrong, they are very kind and want to help my son, but it is difficult when even they are not informed very efficiently. The last conversation that I had with the school is that my son will in fact be promoted to sophomore status and will not have to retake courses. However, they also stated that this can only happen this year because the test is new and the district approved promotion of failures. It is anticipated that will change starting next year.

I plan to continue to learn as much as I can about the processes of EOC so that I can provide the support my children need. I want to be clear that I am an advocate of state standards and assessments. I think they are worthy and important. I think we are on our way to creating an assessment system that works, but we are not there yet. It seems to me that the system is working for the average and above average students, but our students at risk and struggling learners are at a real disadvantage. AYP is more informative in my opinion and I would like to see more emphasis and attention in that area.” (Parent reflection, received July, 2012)

  • What is this parent really telling us?
  • Can you identify or empathize with the parent?
  • How well do we consider those parents with additional challenges, such as language or education level barriers?
  • Can we be more purposeful in helping our communities learn and grow with us in today’s educational environment?

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