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Is the end of the TAKS test in sight?

Now that they’ve got the court order regarding property taxes off their backs (temporarily, anyway), the Lege can actually visit the idea of school finance (read: figure out how they’re gonna pay for those property tax cuts) and maybe even take up some school reform ideas. On the list of topics to discuss: the TAKS test.

“You never stop discussing education. It’s got to be every session, and it’s got to be major – every session,” Senate Education Chair Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said.

Public education directly affects more than 4.5 million Texas students, their parents and about 600,000 teachers and staff.

Shapiro is among those who believe the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test “has worn out its welcome,” particularly for high school and middle school grades. She will push for “end-of-course” exams for the upper grades.

She also wants to review the state’s assessment process and minimum standards for student performance. Currently, schools earn “acceptable” status with a 25 percent passing rating.

“Nobody believes that 25 percent passing is acceptable,” Shapiro said. “We’ve got to change that and make (school grades) meaningful and not something to snicker at because that’s what we’re doing right now.”

The article doesn’t have a quote from one of Governor Perry’s spokesbots, but given that ending TAKS as we know it was a major plank in Chris Bell’s platform, don’t expect him to sit by quietly as this is going on. The danger is that the state will eliminate the weasel words without providing the means for school districts to meet the new and improved levels they set. Expect that vouchers will somehow work their way into the conversation, even after the electoral spanking that voucher king James Leininger suffered. As with appraisal caps and other bad ideas, as long as there’s an obsessive and well-financed constituency, stuff like that never goes away.

Elsewhere, Greg has a nice catch regarding the nature of standardized tests and why they’re often futile. Check it out.

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5 Comments

  1. kevin whited says:

    She will push for “end-of-course” exams for the upper grades.

    So, you’re a supporter of end-of-course exams as a replacement for TAKS?

    I’d guess there’d be a surprising amount of support for such a change.

  2. Mathwiz says:

    One little-discussed problem with tests like TAKS is that the official “correct” answers are, all too often, wrong! This is especially true in the science and math portions of the test.

    It’s often not easy to write a question with a clear, unambiguously correct answer, as this question (from 2004’s 4th-grade test) shows:

    “Which planets are closest to Earth?”

    If you answer quickly without thinking it through, as a typical fourth-grader is likely to do, you’ll probably say “Venus and Mars;” and indeed, that answer is considered the “correct” one.

    But if you think about it, as a more gifted fourth-grader might, you’ll realize the true answer depends on the relative positions of the planets in their orbits at that time – something few adults, let alone fourth-graders, are likely to know. For example, Mercury and Earth could be on the same side of the Sun, while Venus and Mars are on the opposite side. In this case the correct answer would be “Mercury and Venus.” If Mercury, Earth, and Mars were all on the same side of the Sun, while Venus was on the opposite side, the correct answer would be “Mercury and Mars.” (At least the outer planets are always further from Earth than those three, so we don’t have to worry about them.)

    Now certainly Texas doesn’t expect its fourth-grade students to track the precise positions of the four inner planets in order to answer a TAKS question! The test probably meant instead to ask, “which planets get closest to Earth?” But as it happens, all three of the possibilities were listed as possible answers to the multiple-choice question. Worse, the test was given at a time when “Venus and Mars” was not the correct answer!

    The point is that poorly-worded questions like these penalize the few gifted students who realize the question is more complex than it first appears, but fail to realize that whoever thought up the question meant to ask a much simpler one and just botched the wording.

  3. Kevin, I’m relatively agnostic as to what kind of test would replace the TAKS. What I want mostly is for the issues that Rep. Scott Hochberg brought up in the interview I did with him to be addressed. Basically, I want to feel confident that we’re measuring what we intend to measure, that we have a way to objectively evaluate the metrics we do use, and that the right yardsticks are used for all of the kids (see Mathwiz’s comment for one example). What that looks like, or what buzzwords are used to label it, is of secondary importance to me.

  4. Greg Wythe says:

    I’m still trying to decipher where Kevin could even begin to conclude that Charles has identified himself in any way in the initial post as a supporter of “end-of-course” tests.

    … short of being reading-challenged, of course.

    What is worth asking, though, is why there’s any positive level of exectation that the “new” levels set by the state will necessarily represent “improvement” when the trend has been quite the opposite.

    As Mississippi has shown us (and as we’ve been too willing to mimic), all we have to do to better educate kids and make them smarter is define the concept down a few notches.

  5. Markose says:

    Look, I am a sophomore in high school so no one else knows what taks is all about better than one who takes it, so listen.
    I beleive that the taks test is overplayed and inhibits with student learning as all we learn is taks. recently our principal initiated a rule making our asinine taks period go from 30 minutes to one hour postponing our school dismissal from 3:25 to 3:45 (he took 7 minutes from passing time one between each period) which makes our taks prep longer than our standard periods and it isn’t even optional for students, such as myself who have passed taks every time they took it. frankly this type of mentallity will raise nothing but test taking robots not prepared for the real world after hihg school. for this reason I am an avid supporter of eliminating taks for an end of year test which will alow us to learn what we need and not what is on the test.