Abolishing the TAKS Test

I couldn't believe it when I read this in the news. Is it possible there's actually a shred of common sense in the Texas legislature? As impossible as it seems, I was delighted to hear a state representative wonder aloud if the excessive focus on standardized testing in Texas was narrowing the curriculum and putting too much pressure on our students. My response: "Well, duh!" Talk to any teacher who remembers teaching before the TAKS. They will tell you just how much THE TEST has constricted their ability to modify their curriculum and make learning fun and relevant for their students. It's horribly ironic that as top universities deemphasize test scores and look for applicants who are passionate about their pursuits, our primary and secondary education systems are all about the test, and give students little time or opportunity to explore anything outside the basics that they might become passionate about.

I'll admit my faith in bureaucracy is as bad as the next person's. I don't trust that the Texas Education Agency will do anything right if they replace the TAKS with end-of-course exams. TEA's track record is abysmal. But after seeing what TAKS has done to our public schools over the last decade or so, even raising the issue of abolishing it is a breath of fresh air!

Legislation would be first step toward abolishing TAKS

The Lufkin Daily News

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Could the days of TAKS testing be numbered?

That's the ultimate goal of legislation filed on Nov. 13 by state Rep. Dora Olivo (D-Missouri City) and joint author state Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo).

The legislation — known as House Bills 136 and 137 — is one issue that will be discussed when the 80th Legislature convenes on Jan. 9, 2007.

Olivo, who will present the legislation for a third time, says the excessive focus on the TAKS "narrows the curriculum."

Raymond believes the TAKS test should be abolished, and this could be the first step toward that goal, he announced in a press release.

"We need to do away with the TAKS test, plain and simple," he said. "We tried it and it didn't work. TAKS is now hurting our educational system and our children more than it is helping."

According to the Texas Education Agency, the state would lose approximately $2 billion to $4 billion in federal funding if the test was not administered at all because of its inclusion in the No Child Left Behind Act. Raymond plans to work with federal officials to remove the strings attached to federal funds.

If passed, HB 136 would allow students who failed the third-, fifth- or eighth-grade TAKS test, to meet with a grade placement committee established by the school district. The committee would be composed of the student's principal or designee, the student's teacher and a school counselor. Using standards set by the board of trustees, the committee could promote a student if it concludes that the student is likely to perform at grade-level with accelerated instruction. Standards set by the board could include satisfactory grades, work samples, diagnostic testing and extenuating circumstances that may have affected the student's performance.

Additionally, a student may not be held back unless the decision of the committee is unanimous. This basically flip-flops the current rule that requires a unanimous committee decision to promote a student who has failed all three TAKS attempts.

HB 137 would allow high school seniors who failed the 11th grade TAKS to graduate if they meet similar alternative criteria including grade point average, class ranking, other test scores and the consideration of extenuating circumstances.

Some legislators are expressing support for end-of-course exams, rather than relying on a single test.

"End-of-course exams assess what has been taught in a single year, as opposed to the cumulative knowledge of TAKS testing," said Senate Education Chair Florence Shapiro (R-Plano), in her October district newsletter.

"Multiple end-of-course exams would also take the pressure off students and educators to pass a single test, by spreading the assessments out over multiple subjects in all four years of high school."

State Rep. Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin) agrees that other measurable criteria should be allowed.

"We are putting too much pressure on kids over one test," he said.

McReynolds says that some measure of testing is needed and is a good thing.

"But can we get too much of a good thing? Yes."