ELYRIA — Stacie Starr says mandated state testing is pushing her away from teaching.
The veteran Elyria Schools educator said Monday she plans to resign at the end of the school year.
Gasps of disbelief followed the announcement made during an education forum aimed at unraveling for parents the intricacies of the standardized testing system. Starr was at the podium, delivering a talk on how special education students are suffering under the new system based on Common Core standards and more rigorous assessments. She said as a veteran intervention specialist at Elyria High School, she could no longer watch silently from within the confines of a structured school day.
Instead, she is leaving education in the traditional sense.
“I am going to teach in a different way,” she proclaimed.
Starr wants to start an after-school mentoring program for at-risk students in hopes of saving them from the school-to-prison pipeline.
Starr garnered a reputation of being a rock star teacher long before “Live with Kelly and Michael” picked her as the winner of the 2014 Top Teacher Search. She has mentored middle school boys, putting books in the hands of at-risk youth and ties on their necks to foster a sense of pride. Handing out high school diplomas to those same students was a highlight of her career, a testament that getting a child to graduation sometimes requires more than just lesson plans and homework.
She has coached football, taken students on field trips to meet authors and adopted a “failure is not an option” approach to some of the hardest-to-reach students. Yet with a stellar 16-year career under her belt, Starr said the new testing culture is killing education.
“I can’t do it anymore, not in this ‘drill ‘em and kill ‘em’ atmosphere,” she said. “I don’t think anyone understands that in this environment if your child cannot quickly grasp material, study like a robot and pass all of these tests, they will not survive.”
The standing-room-only audience at the Elyria Public Library’s West River Road North branch was shocked. Starr fought back tears as she explained her life as a teacher.
The tests are developmentally inappropriate for typical students and torture for those with special needs, she said. And, even an individual education plan is not enough to shield students from the rigors of state expectations.
“I have faith in my students, but my students are reading at sometimes a fourth- and fifth-grade reading level,” she said. “Each and every day, I have to look in my students’ eyes and tell them I can’t help them because the state has decided they have to prove what they know.”
Starr said she is not giving up on kids by leaving the district. Elyria has some of the best educators and students achieve on par with more affluent districts, she said.
“It’s just hard because, as teachers, we are playing a game where the rules keep changing,” she said.
If the crowd in the room was any indication, Starr will not be alone. Other teachers spoke of their desire to leave education or told stories about how colleagues want to walk away.
“I’m like you. I feel like I have to get out,” said Jackie Conrad, a third grade teacher.
Standardized testing, more accurately the soon-to-be administered tests developed by Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), was the target Monday. Despite state legislative action being needed before real change can happen, the fight to reform testing is not letting up locally in Lorain County, especially by the very vocal sponsoring group, Lorain County Parents Supporting our Children and Teachers.
Elyria High School social studies teacher Matt Jablonski said he has seen the arc of testing from the front lines. He started with the district two years before No Child Left Behind was passed. He said if parents thought the Ohio Proficiency Test and Ohio Graduation Test were bad, they are not ready for PARCC.
“We will give the last OGT this year. I don’t know if I’m going to cry when we do, because what we are moving to is unbelievable,” he said.
Thought to be a better way to assess students by determining early if they are ready for school and jobs after high school, PARCC is a wild card despite years of preparation, said Elyria fifth-grade teacher Dawn Neely Randall, who last week called on the Elyria school board to take on the charge of leading reform.
She said Starr’s decision to leave is truly a loss for Elyria Schools.
“It’s time we stand up for our students before we lose more good teachers,” she said.