To the Test
A teacher's thoughts: I read "Exit Exams" [by Margaret Downing, April 10] with great interest. As a first-year teacher, I couldn't agree more with many of the flaws of standardized testing that you pointed out. However, your view that the testing doesn't match the curriculum because "[the] normal course of studies [is being] shoved aside for practice drills" is not entirely true. I would contend that the practice drills have become an added burden, but the tests do match the curriculum quite accurately.
Also, your statement about the helpfulness of the test is a valid concern, but it is a bit of a misperception. You argue that if the tests were really useful, they should be given at the beginning of the year and not at the end, in order to help the teachers "teach to the deficits." Usually, at the beginning of the year, schools and teachers use previous years' "released TAKS" assessments as diagnostic tools. Personally, I find them to be a great tool to help me inform my instruction.
No Child Left Behind
That being said, I firmly believe that the current take on standardized testing is hurting both students and teachers. I feel enormous pressure from the administration to perform, and there is very little maneuvering room when it comes to TAKS. Drilling my students is a painful task that I dislike, yet at the same time I feel my hands are tied. Standardized testing provides a sense of direction and enhances accountability for teachers, but it also hinders our ability to teach in creative and diverse ways. Then again, in what other way can we measure, at a statewide or nationwide level, that our students are learning what they are supposed to be learning? I know how to do it in my classroom, but what of the teacher who is not really teaching? Where and how do we set the bar?
Your article speaks mostly about graduation rates and how they have been affected by standardized testing, which is a subject that I find absolutely fascinating and dismal at the same time. I am not a believer in performance pay or in federal funding being tied to standardized testing, because this clearly shifts the focus from what the students are learning to what they should be "scoring." Then everything begins to be about beating the test. Teachers, as one of your interviewees rightly mentions, are then measured on their ability to "deliver" scores, rather than on their ability to teach. And that's how we get to where we are today.
Name withheld by request
A charade: I agree with all your conclusions regarding No Child Left Behind except for one: "However well intentioned statewide testing was at the start, it is clear that it has corrupted the relationship between principals and students." Perhaps the law has corrupted this relationship, but the idea that anything about NCLB was "well intentioned" is naive at best. I have always maintained that the intention of this set of nonsensical requirements was to further denigrate public education and increase the "case" for vouchers and tax credits for public school tuition. Those who bought into the "good intentions" obviously have not read the law. It was created to serve the needs of a particular ideology. For example, why would a stipulation that requires schools to surrender contact information to military recruiters have been included?
Your comments about Texas ring as true in Illinois, where the state testing system gets changed every year, rendering data from year to year useless. I appreciate your comments. We have already saddled an entire class of students in this country with a waste of the precious little time we have for education. To continue this charade to further a political agenda is a crime.
Dr. Robert J. Lupo
Ridgewood High School District 234
Online readers weigh in:
It's the teachers: Look beyond the obvious. I know all the arguments against the TAAS. Have you looked at this test? Students should be able to pass the TAAS, pure and simple.
Many of the great teachers have left this profession because of "the system." Political correctness has destroyed the educational system.
I personally know one teacher that I wouldn't let baby-sit my dog, much less my child. Her background would make your toes curl — she can't pass an exam, but somehow she is teaching our children.
Comment by Barb
Don't teach to a test: I moved out of the Houston area a little more than ten years ago, but I spent three years teaching a non-classroom subject in the public school system in the Houston area. This article only confirms what the teachers knew back then: Teaching to a test, and only to a test, leaves little room for anything else that students are supposed to be learning in school. I'm all for accountability, but the current system assures that nobody wins.
Comment by njtx71st
In Robb Walsh's review of Jackie Tan Restaurant ["Jackie Tan Thinks Big," April 10], he wrote that the restaurant was owned by the same people who own Tan Tan Restaurant on Ranchester. In fact, the two restaurants are not affiliated.
And in the April 17 Bayousphere, Grace Dreifuerst's last name should have been spelled that way in the photo caption, and not the way we misspelled it.
The Houston Press regrets the errors.
Houston Press staffers do well in contest
Houston Press Editor Margaret Downing received a first-place award in the two-state 2007 First Amendment Awards sponsored by the Fort Worth chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
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Downing won for her story "Death in a Box" in the category of Defending the Disadvantaged.
Press writer Chris Vogel placed second in the Opening the Books category for his story "Weekend Warriors."
And Press writer Todd Spivak placed third in the Best Use of Public Records investigative category for his story "Toxic Town."
The contest was open to print and broadcast media throughout Texas and Oklahoma.