April 2, 2013

Arlington High student tweets STAAR protest during test

Kyron Birdine, a 16-year-old junior at Arlington High School, decided to make a statement about standardized testing Monday while taking the STAAR writing exam.

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Kyron Birdine, a 16-year-old junior at Arlington High School, decided to make a statement about standardized testing Monday while taking the STAAR writing exam.

"I have the TAKS test to study for, not this unneeded craziness," he wrote on the essay sheet, adding "YOLO (You Only Live Once)" and drawing a smiley face.

Then he took a photo of the sheet with his iPod and sent it out on the social network Twitter.

What may have been intended as a lighthearted comment resulted in four days of on-campus suspension for Birdine by Arlington High officials, who say he broke the security of the testing process.

The Arlington school district issued a statement about Birdine's tweet.

"Today there was an incident with a student tweeting a picture of an answer booklet for a STAAR field test," the statement read. "We have made an initial report of the incident to TEA and will continue to investigate further. The student has been punished in accordance with district disciplinary procedures."

The first round of the test, which started Monday, really didn't mean much for Birdine.

Though the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness is the state's newest series of high-stakes tests, Birdine and other juniors in Texas public schools are still taking the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) test as a primary assessment to determine if they are ready to graduate next year. The STAAR affects freshmen, sophomores and students in elementary and junior high.

"His school was part of a mandated sample for the English III STAAR test," said DeEtta Culbertson with the Texas Education Agency. "He was merely taking that essay as part of the test at his school as a sample."

Birdine won't be graded on his one-sentence essay, and it won't count against him or against Arlington High School.

"The test that counts for him will be his exit-level TAKS," Culbertson said.

"I support him 100 percent, but I do not support the method of how he got his point across," said his mother, Kiana Daw. "I told him, 'Let's choose a different method next time.'"

Daw said she had been taking media calls at work all day Tuesday and was a little overwhelmed at all the attention.

She said her college-bound son is a serious student and would never take liberties on a test that would be graded.

"I want everyone to know that he really is a really good kid," she said. "He does take tests seriously, and he does very well on all of them."

The district's testing department has been investigating, said Leslie Johnston, communications coordinator. Birdine violated the state's testing policy, not the district's Student Code of Conduct, she said.

Birdine had become a bit of a social media celebrity with classmates and students around the state by noon Tuesday.

"Juniors have the TAKS, research papers, SAT, ACT, jobs, sports and everything else to worry about," Birdine tweeted. "We don't need the STAAR."

Daw said she believes her son's punishment was too harsh for the action.

"He should not have done it, but I've always encouraged him to speak his mind," she said. "I don't necessarily disagree with him. It was a situation of a needless test."

Testing incidents have grown with the availability of technology.

Culbertson said students are prohibited from having electronic devices in a testing area with the exception of a calculator during a math test.

She recalled an incident several years ago when students were discovered texting on their phones during an assessment test.

"Someone taking a picture of the test and tweeting is new," she said.

In April 2010, a difficult math problem from the freshman-level TAKS test found its way to Facebook on testing day.

The Texas Education Agency removed the compromised question from the test databank.

This report contains material from Star-Telegram archives.

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @startelegram

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