Casualties of War

Parents who bought into the TAKS hype dealt blow at HISD meeting.

Harvin Moore played catchup at Thursday's meeting, readily admitting that the district's promotion of TAKS test results is confusing.

"When the state says you're recognized, that is something to be happy about, but it doesn't mean what it used to mean. And even if you're recognized, it may not be very good at all," Moore said.

"If you look at third-grade reading, Isaacs had 86 percent passing on the TAKS test. But on the Stanford test third-grade reading, 38 percent. That is the gulf between what the TAKS is measuring and what the Stanford is measuring. They're not exactly the same thing. But that means they're significantly below grade level. Thirty-eight is below grade level."

Many parents, teachers and students at Isaacs thought HISD made a mistake when it ­proposed making them an Apollo school.
Mandy Oaklander
Many parents, teachers and students at Isaacs thought HISD made a mistake when it ­proposed making them an Apollo school.

"We've talked as a board about, 'Let's tone down a little bit the pep rallies about TAKS,'" Moore told the filled auditorium. "The TAKS test is a minimum-skills test."

Board President Harris, remembering all the past celebrations about TAKS scores, expressed regrets, but Moore disagreed, insisting they were justified when the TAKS still had meaning. But the board has not shirked its duty, he said; its members had been emphasizing the importance of being "commended" rather than just passing TAKS, and had talked about the Stanford test results for several years now.

Still, as trustee Anna Eastman noted, "We continue to put out notices about how proud we are of our recognized schools."

Moore alleged that TAKS, like other state tests, "is subject to gaming by the people who set it up, which is the state."

The No Child Left Behind Act, which Moore said he endorsed, has "a significant flaw," and that is that while the federal law said that 100 percent of students should pass all the tests by 2014, it did not develop a test itself and left that to the states.

"NCLB left out the whole concept of what anyone had to learn," Moore said, only telling schools they would be in trouble if they weren't meeting the ultimate deadline and making adequate yearly progress along the way.

So states set up their own testing systems and soon came to realize, Moore said, "that if their kids weren't improving fast enough, then the only thing they could do to make sure no child was left behind by 2014 would be to make the test a little bit easier each year." Eastman echoed this, saying: "We have focused so long on these state ratings that are manipulated by the state. Every year they change what the passing rates are."

Reached in Austin, TEA spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman denied that Texas has been making its test easier to ensure a higher passing rate. Each year's test is evaluated for how many questions are easy, medium or hard, and "the number of questions the students have to get right may be adjusted every year," she said. But that's to maintain a level playing field from one year to the next, not to make the tests easier.

The reason passing scores are up, she said, is that teachers have begun to understand what's being tested and how it's worded and are better able to help their students master the material.

Marchman said comparing TAKS and Stanford is unfair. TAKS is set up to test the facts that Texas thinks its students should know; Stanford is national and has a whole different basis, she said.

In any event, starting next fall, the TAKS test goes away, to be replaced with the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) test, designed to be end-of-year tests at the high school level in specific core subjects.

Since student scores typically fall with the introduction of any new standardized test, this should make 2014 especially exciting for Texas schools.

Why would a school turn down extra funding for tutors for its kids? Even the best and brightest students tend to do better with a little extra help.

Besides the stigma of being labeled a facility in need of help, a school and its parents may not want what they see as interference in their activities. Parent Maria Gomez was one of several speakers concerned about what would happen to the children if teachers and administrators were replaced. And they have only to look at the upheaval at the nine middle and high schools already in Apollo to know those fears are warranted.

"Teachers in these schools who are doing great jobs have nothing to worry about, " Grier said. But the teachers and administrators who are not are going to be gone, he promised.

The history of HISD in modern times is that of a school district with strong decentralization. A principal decides how to spend his or her money in terms of personnel and reading or math programs adopted. If he's a success, he continues; if not, he's counseled with or removed. In the case of the Apollo schools, HISD administrators have a much more controlling relationship with their principals — among other things, they tell them the length of their school day and how to spend their Title I money.

As trustee Carol Galloway put it, "Schools that really need the medicine are the ones that should get it." She wanted recognized and exemplary schools to be exempt. She urged the board to delay its vote on expanding the program until after it gets final test results from the nine middle and high schools that have been part of the project this year.

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Dr. Fill
Dr. Fill

I told my youngest kid the other day, TAKS and benchmark tests are designed for morons...hmm, I mean the slowest kids in her class. She has to do many times better than the passing grade to be considered a smart kid. Hopefully she gets the point.


While I feel bad for the schools being caught in the district's growing pains, I think it is wonderful news that the TAKS test is losing its power. The Stanford 9 is such a better assessment (as I recall)... and harder to "teach to." For the 2 years I taught in HISD during the ascent of NCLB (2001-2003), I was explicitly instructed to spend February-April "teaching TAKS..." If I recall correctly, my principal at the time told me that if the Northeast district superintendent or other sub-district administrators were to come to my classroom during that time, we had better be explicitly be teaching TAKS objectives.

Yet, as a thinking adult, I realized that even though my students did well on that exam, the Stanford was a better assessment of what they knew and how they were doing (and how I was doing).

I don't know the answer, but I'm pretty sure it's not home schooling or standardized tests. And I'm pretty sure it involves paying teachers more so that talented, intelligent people choose to teach rather than leave for more lucrative careers. I'm very glad that nurses make alot of money (aprox $70,000/year, I think), but teachers should make at least as much as nurses, if not more.


Parents- it's time for a national Keep Your Kids Home on Test Day movement. It would invalidate all those crappy statistics and then the millions of dollars wasted on Pearson, TEA administration/test salaries, etc. could be redirected to more valuable education projects.

Houston citizen
Houston citizen

This is the laziest piece of reporting I have ever seen about education. Comparing the TAKS and Stanford is like comparing apples and oranges. You should have made that clear to your readers.

Ms. Downing, go on to the TEA website and look at the released TAKS tests for the last 9 years. Take them. Do you think they are increasing or decreasing in rigor? (Let me give you a hint, they are increasing). Ask the surbuban school districts if they administer the Stanford test. (When they say no, ask why). In short, do your job. This is sloppy reporting.

Follow the money. Find out how much TEA pays Pearson to help compose the TAKS (and now the STAAR) tests. Find out how many salaries in TEA are directly tied to testing. Find out how much money HISD pays ETS for the Stanford test. Find out how many millions HISD spends on test prep books, software and consultants throughout the year.

Look for ties or kickbacks from testing companies to school boards around the state and nation. Ask how Jeb Bush is related to this story. I am just a regular teacher and I see all these dots. I don't understand why no media person has figured it out yet.

A Teacher
A Teacher

So if TAKS tests don't matter so much I guess I will stop preparing my students for it and will focus all of my attention on the Stanford. The school rating will go down but apparently the HISD Trustees don't care...


Can you spell H-O-M-E-S-C-H-O-O-L?And public educators have the nerve to criticize those who teach their own. Ya, right.


I remember taking the TAAS tests and the TAKS test came out when I was in high school. All the teachers ever did was teach the test. Thats what we focused on all year, that stupid test. I took the Stanford test to and it was much harder. I think they should do away with it and focus on what students really need to be taught. I'll give you a hint, *it's not the TAKS*


No Child Left Behind was conceived by the same people who deny evolution, and thought it was a good idea to invade Iraq. It is a vast Fantasyland inhabited by charlatans.


Home schooled kids who do well on standard tests (SAT and advanced subject matter SAT's such as chemistry) are aggressively recruited by elite universities.

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