Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The TAKS Test

My son Jack is in 4th grade (in public school) and took the TAKS test this week. Last week, they ran through exercise tests to get students prepped for the test. This is in addition to weekly quizzes this year on the math problem types they will encounter. To me, it's good news: At least they are testing on reading comprehension, writing skills and basic math. Complaints that teachers "teach to the test" are in my mind misplaced. The prep quizzes are the kind of assignments we would want 4th graders to be doing anyway; they are given more rigorous writing assignments in preparation for TAKS than they otherwise would get; they are learning through the process of preparation. Schools need to have more of these 'basic' education elements, and less non-essential activities.

In contrast, tomorrow our 6th grader will 'miss' Language Arts due to a science fair. What will she miss? Watching a movie! Keep TAKS, we need it; what we don't need is the inessential fluff that displaces real learning.

If we are going to have TAKS however, we need to do one obvious and essential thing: Keep it in English! Did you know TEA has created and gives out Spanish TAKS tests?

About one in six of the state's 4.5 million students is classified as "limited English proficient." The Spanish TAKS is offered to some of these students in the third through sixth grades.

Spanish TAKS in my mind defeats the purpose of TAKS and undermines its essential goal. Students who are not English proficient fall behind in education, so testing them in Spanish does nobody good and will inherently be a different standard/test. Bilingual education is a failure that disserves students and this is merely an enabler of that bad idea. Far better to have one-year immersion in English, end long-term bilingual programs, and keep TAKS in English only.

When Chris Bell was running for Governor, he complained about TAKS as too rigid. He had it backwards; our most important problem in education is lack of rigor and accountability. We need good, solid, rigorous standards. TAKS is like the multi-vitamin for the education system. It doesn't ensure a complete educational diet, but it ensures that essentials are getting provided to a given sufficient level. Based on what I see of my son's tests, TAKS is doing its job. We need to keep it.


carl said...

The complacent education establishment brought it on itself.
They don’t like accountability.
They lament that they have to “teach to the test” instead of teaching the subject.
How insincere!
TAKS was precisely imposed to test how well the subjects are taught and they know it!
In my opinion, it is thus unethical to “teach to the test.”
Let them teach the subjects well, and let the test show it.

Anonymous said...

My name is Alex and I am a teacher in Houston. What I feel that needs to be addressed is the comments made towards the English only rant.

After the sixth grade no spanish version is given, second the students are given just one year exemption from TAKS upon entering the country, the country they are from may not value education as much or the family needed them to work to make ends meet. It is a reality that students come to this country at the age of 14 with a fifth grade education, being placed into 9th grade classes and in two years they are expected to learn a language well enough to pass a 10th grade English test, pick up five years of Math and Science and know World and US History. All of these tests have large amounts of reading including the math and science tests (which when recently analized for reading level were higher than the English test [english : 8th, math: 10th grade reading levels])
And that is only if the students are here for two full years, if they enter the country for 3 months, go back to the home country for 2 years then come back to the state then they no longer get that extra year that child has to get up to spead in all the above in under a year. And it is not his fault that his parents put them in that predicament and it surly is not the teachers fault for not "teaching" them. As far as taking the tests, every math teacher I know, including myself, has dug thru every released test taken it, analized common errors that OUR students have made, addressed those errors and checked again. As far as setting "minimal" standards I agree that minimal standards are neccessary, however the state now feels that Algebra II is neccessary for every child to pass, and when I say every I mean every. The kid that is on the football team, the student that bangs his head against the wall 30 times a day and student whose dream job is paying more than $6 an hour. My question to you is, when was the last time you had to find a solution to a system of equations, know how to graph an inequality or know how to change a function of a parabola to make it look a given way. My guess is that you like 95% of Americans is never and these are all things that are tested.

Anonymous said...

First of all, one year of immersion in the English language will not prepare a student to take the English TAKS. It takes much longer than a year to become proficient in the verbal AND written aspects of a language. Additionally, even if the child were to master verbal and written proficiency, it is likely the language he mastered will be informal English (NOT what is used on the TAKS).

Secondly, TAKS is not the way to enforce accountability. Providing the same test to students that vary in gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic level and expecting all of them to perform equally is absolutely ridiculous. Complaints about "teaching to the test" have nothing to do with dislike of accountability. The amount of time teachers are expected to use to on TAKS practice worksheets and teaching students how to pass the test (because the test is intentionally made to be tricky and students must learn how to navigate such unnecessary difficulties) leaves teachers with little time to teach their subject.

It is the ignorance of people that blindly support the test that keeps the horrible cycle of the TAKS alive. The public wants to look to TAKS scores to measure the abilities of schools and teachers. They feel that they need something to prove that their child is receiving a decent education and they would rather accept the scores that are already available than demand a system that provides true education for all students. The more important the TAKS becomes to the public, the more time teachers are expected to devote to it. The sad thing is that all children loose quality education as a result of the TAKS.