The Standardized Test Monster

Today is the first day of TAKS, the standardized test all students are required to take in Texas. As I read the article below in my local paper, I wasn't sure whether to feel comforted or disturbed that the students and parents quoted were taking the test in stride. A whole generation of students has now grown up with this state-mandated test.

I taught in Texas public schools before the TAKS test was instituted, but I have many colleagues that deal with the test each year, and I've seen the effect TAKS has had on education. The TEST has become all-important, all-powerful, omnipresent. Everything else is secondary. Case in point: This is usually my tutoring day with two second graders who are struggling with reading. Tutoring was cancelled because of TAKS. My two reading buddies don't take the TAKS writing assessment. That's only fourth grade. But nonetheless, the school wants nothing to happen today that might intefere with testing. So all tutoring for all students is cancelled. Does this say something about our priorities?

Is testing a good thing? Ask a teacher who remembers the days when they had time to do other things in the classroom besides teach to the test.

As an author, I get numerous requests to do school visits. Most of these requests, like everything else in the Texas schools, are tied to the testing schedule. "Can you talk to our fourth and seventh graders? They are the ones taking the writing test for TAKS."

I have to be clear when I accept such invitations: I can talk to kids about writing in general. I can encourage them to be writers. But I cannot coach them for TAKS, or talk about what a great thing it is to be tested. Because there is one thing I am sure about: If I had had to take the TAKS test as a child, I would never have become a writer. It would've beaten any enthusiasm for writing out of my system.

Sometimes I think our public education system should come with a warning, like the one used in the old emergency broadcast messages:

"This is a test. This is only a test. If this had been an actual education, you would've been instructed where to tune in your area for some common sense."

2, 4, 6, 8, who do we appreciate? Test-takers!

Jeanne RussellExpress-News Staff Writer

"Yay, seventh-graders!" shouted a group of parents and students, cheering as they swarmed an SUV that pulled up to the curb before Rhodes Middle School early Monday.

Wearing dark hooded jackets and gloves to ward off the wet cold, parent volunteers and eighth-grade students flagged other parents down with orange fliers and pouches of orange juice — a visual reminder that the season of testing is here.

Fourth- and seventh-graders take the state-mandated writing exam today; third-, fifth- and ninth-graders test their reading skills; 10th-graders take what is known as English language arts.

Parent Orlando Leyva accepted juice as he pulled into the parking lot, a reminder for his seventh-grade son to eat a good breakfast today. He said he welcomed the steady diet of testing.

"I think it's great, so we can know where they stand and if the school is really teaching him," said Leyva, whose son attends Rhodes Technology Academy, a magnet school.

Students will have March to catch their breath from the untimed exam, which may take some youngsters the entire day. In April, they face the remaining battery of exams in the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills: more reading, writing and English, math, science and social studies.

Parent Rachel Rohrer said her children grew up with testing, so they take it in stride. Her sixth-grader was in the first fifth-grade class required to pass math and reading, but the high stakes of the exam did not faze her, Rohrer said.

In Texas, students must pass reading in third grade and math and reading in fifth grade to advance to the next grade, as well as English language arts, math, science and social studies to earn a diploma. They are given several chances to take each test.

The cheering outside the school Monday morning didn't up the pressure, Rohrer said, as the group giddily confronted a bus of seventh-grade students. Rather, the silliness helped ease it.
"This is really neat. It helps motivate the kids, and it helps remind parents," she said.

Principal Edward Garcia said he saw Monday's effort to catch parents at the curb of this West Side school in the San Antonio Independent School District as a "morale booster for the kids."
"Our seventh-graders feel like they are gladiators heading into the arena," he said. Today, he said, the eighth-graders will cheer as the seventh-graders enter the hallway.

Parent Diane Resendiz said her younger daughter's nerves sometimes caused jitters. To offset that, she said, she sent her to tutoring, worked with her at home, and ensured both her girls were well fed and well rested.

Most of all, she said, she just gave them plenty of encouragement.
Big sister Rebekah Resendiz, a sixth-grader, said the test didn't scare her one bit.
"I study a lot. I'm very confident. I do very well," she said.