Ask a Mom or a teacher in Texas what she thinks of the TAKS test and you will no doubt hear a long diatribe of all of its faults. Even Moms who don’t have elementary-aged children (yet!) like me have heard enough from our friends with older kids to instill fear of the dreaded TAKS test and how it impacts everything about a school – teacher lesson plans, class content, teacher performance scores (and bonuses), school funding….yes, just about everything.
After hearing another rant about the test from a Mom-friend with elementary school children, I decided to investigate. Immediately after I found in my research what the controversy around TAKS was all about, I also saw that the two leaders of the Education committees of both bodies of the State Congress have just presented proposed bills to their Houses to fundamentally change the TAKS system. And yes, if you are not a fan of TAKS, you will love these new proposals, so read on.
Why Hate TAKS?
This was my first question when I heard all the concerns from my friends about the test. So I jumped on Google to see what caused such universal hatred. I first had to swim through posts on message boards that must have been made by disgruntled students (quoting one of my faves: “I hate the taks test, I fail them, I thought skool was for tests and homework, not sume dumb test that determines if yu go to the next grade …” Really, dude, I’m thinking you need to be held back for some remedial spelling and English lessons. You arguing against it with those writing skills makes me want to be a champion for it).
Then, I was able to find some thoughtful, organized rationale for why many think TAKS is bad for Texas education.
First, some don’t like it because they think it is too easy….that it creates an arbitrary “floor” that requires teachers to teach to, making sure all students get the basics that are tested on the TAKS test vs. challenging students with more complicated concepts and advanced information that won’t appear on a standardized test. As one of my teacher-friends describes it, “I feel such pressure to teach to the ‘lowest’ student in class because I am legally obligated to help him succeed, as well as document everything I teach him and how many minutes.”
Secondly, many parents don’t like the TAKS system because of the stress it places on students themselves. One Mom I know tells me that her son has become physically ill the night before every TAKS test throughout his education – and he’s now 14 years old. And if your child has any learning “differences” that cause standardized testing to be difficult, it can be even more harrowing of an experience.
But, in fact, most of the hatred has nothing to do with the standards on the actual test itself – it is fueled by the use of this test being the single measuring stick for school districts around the state. The system now uses the TAKS test as a “single high-stakes test that determined whether students advanced, teachers received bonuses and principles and superintendents kept their jobs.” (Source: Houston Chronicle) This forces such pressure on teachers and administration to ensure their students perform well on the TAKS test that it actually causes negative behaviors. Some of these are the counter-productive side effects from the incredible stress that the students and teachers feel around TAKS time. Others are the previously mentioned teaching to the “lowest common denominator” in the classroom vs. challenging students more individually. Still others include ignoring other potentially important measures in the decision to move students forward grade levels because the decision under current law relies solely on TAKS performance. The same teacher-friend told me: “Third graders are NOT, as a whole, ready for such a high-stakes test!”
Finally, what may be the death knoll for TAKS is the lack of improvement in objective measures on readiness of students for college and the “real world”. Overwhelmingly, it doesn’t appear to work. Two condemning statistics: Texas ranked 46th in the country last year in the Scholastic Assessment Test scores and last among all states in the percentage of adult population with a high school diploma. (Source: Houston Chronicle) More than 40 percent of Texas high school graduates were not college-ready in at least one subject area, according to a recent study by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. (Source: Moak Casey & Associates, Texas School Finance & Accountability Experts)
Proposed legislation to reform TAKS
Earlier this month (on Thursday, March 5), Senator Florence Shapiro and Representative Rob Eissler, both of whom chair the Public Education Committees of their respective Houses of Congress in Texas, introduced bills that propose a major overhaul in the way TAKS is used. While the bills do not suggest getting rid of the test itself, they suggest alternate ways to assess performance of individual students and school campuses.
The biggest changes would be:
- Under the newly proposed system, students in grades three, five, eight and 11 would not have to pass TAKS exams to be promoted to the next grade level.
- Standardized tests would be given at each gra
de (instead of the current 3rd/5th/8th/11th grade schedule) to measure progress and learning year to year.
- Two types of diplomas could be issued to students upon high school graduation: a “Texas diploma” for college-bound students, or a “standard diploma” for those pursuing technical or trade careers following high school with lessoned academic requirements.
- No longer would districts earn distinctions in aggregate, but individual campuses would earn them – and not based solely on their TAKS results. These distinctions could be given to high school, middle school and elementary school campuses and include a variety of areas, such as growth in student achievement, workforce readiness, second language learning, fine arts and physical fitness.
Changes would take effect during school year 2011 – 2012.
The legislation was introduced jointly by the heads of the Public Education Committees of both sides of the Texas Congress, indicating a strong alignment between both the House and the Senate. However, in an interview, Governor Rick Perry said in the past couple of weeks that he didn’t believe the TAKS system needed reform.
This current legislative session runs to June 1. That’s only approximately 60 days to get these bills passed into law. Will they make it? I know a lot of parents and teachers who are hoping so.
In the meantime, if you want to hear a little bit of dry humor around TAKS, check out this website: http://www.notonthetest.com/. Apparently, it is a song a lot of Texas teachers know well.
Read more at:
Austin News KXAN: Massive Bill Attempts Education Reform, March 5, 2009 ***Includes link to actual 118-pg bill that has been presented to this legislative session.
Houston Chronicle: Legislators may make TAKS a thing of the past. March 5, 2009
Houston Chronicle: Say Goodbye to the Detested TAKS Test, March 27, 2009
MyFox Houston: Some Lawmakers: Nix TAKS Testing, March 5, 2009