Time for TAKS!

This week, students across Texas took the reading portion of the TAKS exam. For many, Tuesday was the culmination of months of preparation during regular class time and after school. Over the last few years, I’ve seen a different side of standardized testing that I never experienced growing up. For me, the yearly exam (then called TAAS) was just another routine. I didn’t know anyone who stressed over it, and my teachers only went through a few days of additional preparation outside of our regular lessons. (For a full TAKS schedule, please visit the Austin ISD website.)

When I came to Austin in August of 2007 though, I saw another side of the exam. I had never known that closure was an option for schools whose students did not score high enough on the TAKS exam until I learned about the situation at Johnston High School. Now that I am more familiar with the requirements and the circumstances that several schools are facing in Austin this year, I have a very different perspective of how mentors can support their students through this difficult time.

One school that is facing scrutiny because of their test scores is Becker Elementary. We have had a few mentors at Becker over the last two years, but in January I received notice from Drew Houlihan of the Austin ISD Leadership Development Center about an effort to match all 3-5 graders (approximately 84 students) at Becker with a mentor.

After an initial request, Austin Energy was able to sign up 20 new mentors for Becker Elementary. Another 6 mentors came from Austin ISD departments and throughout the community. During an orientation, Drew helped the new mentors understand the situation at Becker: Becker is currently rated as Academically Unacceptable (year 1) by the Texas Education Agency. The AISD Leadership Development Center is supporting the students, parents, administrators and teachers at Becker in the effort to improve their academic rating. During an initial needs assessment, the LDC and the Becker community identified the critical need for students, especially in grades 3-5, to connect with an adult role model. The pressures of the accountability system are widely felt inside the walls of Becker. The purpose of the mentors at Becker is to give students an opportunity to escape those pressures, even if it is for 30 minutes per day. By serving as mentors, adult role models provide the students at Becker with a forum for supporting and encouraging their “mentees” to reach their goals and to have an avenue for exploring interests outside of the academic world.

Now that TAKS season has begun, I really feel that mentors at all schools can provide an opportunity for their students to focus on something other than exams. Some students will want to spend their visits talking about the stress they feel and the concerns they have for their school. Other students may want to use their mentor meetings to discuss other goals they have outside of academics. At every grade level, students are very aware of the pressures their teachers and principals are facing during TAKS season. It can be easy for students to feel that their value is only measured by their scores on a standardized exam. Mentors can allow students to show their strengths in new ways and can help students understand that they are valued regardless of their performance on the TAKS.

One mentor who has been working with her student at Becker since early in the fall has seen a real “breakthrough” with her student this week. Another mentor who just had his first meeting last week said that his student opened up right away about what he was going through. It seems that during this stressful time, students are really depending on their mentors and relying on them for support and guidance.

I think the following quote doesn’t just apply to the mentors at Becker, but shows how communities and schools across Austin feel about the support mentors are providing for their students:

“The Becker community and the AISD Leadership Development Center want to express our sincere gratitude to those who serve as mentors. With your support and assistance, we know that each and every child will be highly successful in all that they do this year. Thank you for your commitment to our school and for serving as positive adult role models for our students.” — Drew Houlihan, Assistant Director of AISD Leadership Development Center.

Best wishes to all of the students who are taking the TAKS test!

Becker Elementary is still in need of 15 more mentors!

If you are interested in mentoring a student at Becker Elementary,
contact Christin Alvarado at calvarado@austinpartners.org


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