A Mile Wide and One Inch Deep

Many of us in Texas Public Education have tried to spread the message that the required curriculum in Texas (TEKS) is long on what is covered and very shallow on what is allowed to be truly taught in depth. Mrs. Mary Ann Whitaker, Superintendent at Hudson ISD, published the following article that does a great job of explaining the problem we face. This example is for 5 subjects in 8th grade but the story rings true Pre-K through 12.

Mile Wide – Inch Deep

Texas has created mile wide/inch deep curriculum standards for all subjects, prekindergarten – grade 12. Teachers are mandated by law to teach the state curriculum standards, students are assessed annually on mastery of these standards using the STAAR testing system. There are 3 types of standards per subject:
• Readiness Standards– Essential for success in the current grade or course
• Process Standards– Represent strategies and structures to access learning and provides a way for students to demonstrate understanding/knowledge
Mile-wide standards for students entering 8th grade:
• Social Studies: 36 readiness, 56 supporting, 8 process standards
• Science: 15 readiness, 35 supporting 13 process standards
• Math: 13 readiness, 27 supporting, 7 process standards
• Reading: 13 readiness, 4 supporting, 3 process standards (2 genres)
• Writing: 8 readiness, 10 supporting, 2 process, (6 genres)
• Total standards for 5 subjects: 258 (85 readiness, 132 supporting, 33 process, 8 genres)
These numbers may not seem too overwhelming at first glance; however, the following is an example of one 8th grade readiness standard, with 7 levels of specificity:
8.15.D – Analyze how the U.S. Constitution reflects:
• Principles of limited government
• Republicanism
• Checks and balances
• Federalism
• Separation of powers
• Popular sovereignty
• Individual rights.
The 8 process skills are applied to each of those levels of specificity:
• Primary and secondary sources
• Sequencing, categorizing identifying cause and effect
• Graphs, charts, timelines, maps
• Point of view from historical context
• Point of view on social studies issues or events
• Use appropriate mathematical skills
• Geographic distributions/patterns
• Social studies terminology
From this 1 readiness standard, 56 different questions could be asked on the STAAR Exam. To cover a “mile” of readiness standards, one can easily see the limited time available to offer in-depth teaching/learning opportunities for our students. There are 35 additional social studies readiness standards and 56 supporting standards that must be presented within the 145 days prior to the STAAR administration. Classroom reality means the teacher must cover a comparable standard every 1.45 days!
This is not unique to 8th grade. A student entering first grade, age 6, is expected to master 211 standards in 5 subjects:
• Social Studies: 14 readiness, 27 supporting, 10 process standards
• Science: 7 readiness, 13 supporting, 13 process standards
• Math: 5 readiness, 15 supporting, 7 process standards
• Reading: 12 readiness, 16 supporting, (6 genres), 40 process standards
• Writing: 8 readiness, 9 supporting, (4 genres), 5 process standards
Due to the number of standards for each of the tested subjects, Pearson’s Testing, under the direction of the Texas Education Agency, will select approximately 30% of the standards to be tested each year. Teachers begin each school year attempting to address 100% of these mile-wide standards, praying they have focused attention on the standards that will be targeted on the “state exams”! Exams that will determine the success or failure of students, teachers, campuses, districts! It is time we bring reason back to a system that is no longer reasonable or attainable.

Thank you Mary Ann for taking the time to put this in a perspective that shows the need for change!