Teachers around the state are singing, “Ding, dong, the test is dead.”
The test in question is, of course, the problematic Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test (TAKS), and while it’s not quite dead, it is different enough to make educators across the state happy.
Changes discussed during the Select Committee on Public School Accountability session this morning in Austin, include dropping the requirement that students pass the TAKS before they are promoted to the next grade and allowing school ratings to be based on an average of the three previous years, rather than just the previous year. The tests themselves will also be revamped.
Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro (R-Plano), who supported the plan, claimed the new structure will allow individual school districts more freedom in deciding what criteria to use to promote students, rather than basing it all on the TAKS.
But not everyone at the session was happy with the changes. Former Bush education advisor Sandy Kress, who also serves on the committee, said Texas still has a problem with social promotion and eliminating the TAKS requirement would allow districts to promote students who have not achieved expected levels of proficiency.
Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, worked on the bill and she welcomes the change.
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“This is a better testing proposal than what we had," she tells Hair Balls. "First of all this will give you something that tells you if he learned the course that he’s taking instead of some composite test. Right now, if I’m a high school teacher, which I was, and I happen to have the student for physics, he’s going to take a TAKS test in science, not physics. He’ll have a little chemistry, a little biology, and a little physics. I’m teaching him physics but he’s taking a test over every science subject in a high school. Then they assume that I’m the reason he didn’t do well in biology or chemistry, when those weren’t subjects that I covered. So you end up with calculus teachers who have to stop teaching calculus and start reviewing algebra because it’s on the TAKS. That wastes everyone’s time.”
New tests, which will cover a more narrow range of material (just chemistry, instead of general science or just algebra, instead of general math, for example) will be field-tested then phased in, starting with 9th-grade students.
Even though some confusion is expected during the transition phase because some students will be tested under one system while other students are tested under another, Fallon still welcomes the change. “It is more effective in telling teachers did the child learn something in this class, and that’s what they have to know in order to help students,” she says.
— Olivia Flores Alvarez