AUSTIN (KXAN) - It is testing time for Central Texas students required to pass the state's new standardized State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness -- or STAAR -- test.
KXAN News got a rare look inside a Central Texas high school on a state testing day, and learned why the superintendent of the Hays Consolidated Independent School District is concerned.
"Instruction has stopped in Hays CISD during this time. All we are are testing enterprises -- every campus," said Superintendent Jeremy Lyon. "And I think it's too much."
Lehman High School students in Kyle sit at desks lining the gym floor, filling in answer sheets. Down the hallway is a place teachers call the "war room" where hundreds of pencils, calculators, testing booklets and answer sheets are being organized.
"The war room of the TAKS and STAAR assessment system that has absolutely taken over every high school in Texas and that's all we focus on and all we do right now," said Lyon. "I can't say as an educator that's in the best interest of our educational program. It's in no one's best interest!
Parents and students with the Austin school districts are also blasting the high-stakes testing. Several stood up and spoke to the school board at a meeting in April.
"Education is not a business, families and communities are not your market, teachers are not assembly line workers and students are not products," said one speaker.
A student from Kealing Middle School told the board, "If you don't want to listen to the parents, that's fine. If you don't want to listen to the teachers, that's fine. But please take it from the students. We're the reason you're here today."
Austin and Hays school districts joined more than 400 other school districts in signing a resolution to take a stand against the current testing system in which every Texas public school is graded.
It is a system Sandy Kress helped create 20 years ago.
"Why are we completely shutting down the learning environment while a student takes a test for two hours to see if they can read or compute or write? I think it's nutty. And then they blame the test for it," said Kress.
The former presidential and state education advisor stands behind the new STAAR test designed to be harder.
"We have requirements for new jobs in our economy in Central Texas that most of our young people don't meet," said Kress. "They're not going to get a good job if we don't ratchet it up. That's our obligation as adults to get our students ready."
But dozens of fed up parents who care about their kids' futures are flat out boycotting the test by keeping their kids out of school on state testing days.
"I don't think all standardized tests are great evils. It's how we use them has become the evil, and I don't want my daughter to be a part of that," said Ken Zarifis.
Zarifis is the parent of a seventh grader in an Austin middle school. He is also co-president of a local teacher's union and has taught in public schools 12 years.
The Texas Education Agency wants to remind parents that under state law students are required to pass the new STAAR end of course exams to graduate.
"They're literally jeopardizing their chances of graduating from high school," said Debbie Ratcliffe, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.
Kress says opting kids out is an irresponsible move.
"We're going to break the policy in the law for what end? Is it freedom for people? Ending a war? No. It's not showing that you're competent in reading, writing, and arithmetic, science and social studies."
According to Kress, Hispanic and African American students in Texas have been scoring higher on national tests since the accountability system began.
But educators argue the quality in the classroom continues to decline.
"We have definitely lost something, and what we've lost is creativity, innovation, love of learning," said Lyon.
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