Public PolicyProfessor BalkemaDecember 10, 2001WITH NUMBER TWO PENCILS IN HANDEach year students across the nation are forced into rooms where no talkingis allowed.
They come equipped with number two pencils and a year’spreparation. They are there to take a standardized test. In Texas thistest is called the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills.
Many students walkinto this test knowing that they will pass and knowing that their timewould be better spent in thousands of different areas. Other students comein highly anxious, knowing that not passing the test means that they willnot graduate. As they walk in everyone discusses the stupidity of thetest, and the desire to be anywhere but there. These discussions start assoon as students start taking these tests, in the first grade. As thestudents get older, the conversations become more complicated, analyzingall of the problems behind the test: the test’s low caliber of difficulty,the high-stakes of the test, and teaching just to pass the test.Many states throughout the United States have installed a nationallyrecognized test to give to their students. These tests allow studentsacross many different states to be compared.
Originally Texas did use oneof these nationally recognized tests. However, in 1980, they stopped usingsuch tests and began to create a test of their own. This test slowlyevolved into the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, which was adopted in1990. The idea behind this test was to specifically measure the elementsthat the Texas Education Code finds essential in each grade level. Thetest is retaken annually in grades three through eight, and an exit leveltest is given in the tenth grade. Students must pass the tenth grade testbefore graduation; therefore, they retake it every year until they pass it.
(1997, Judson)The State Board of Education (SBOE) oversees all of the procedures for thecreation of the test, along with the rest of the Texas educational system.The governor appoints the commissioner for this board and the boardmembers, who are representatives of fifteen areas of the state, are electedamong the rest of the board. Everything that happens in the Texaseducation world must go through these people first. The board members headcommittees on planning, instruction and school finance. However, the SBOEmust report back to the state government. The state’s senate has aneducation committee. This committee passes laws and allocates money topass onto the SBOE.
The chairman of this committee is Senator Teel Bivens(Republican), from Amarillo. He is currently in his third session aschairman of this committee. He has done many wonderful things for theeducation world, but seems to have stayed away from the standardized testsof the state. While new teacher recruitment and making higher educationmore accessible have been large on the committee’s agenda; standardizedtests do not appear. This seems slightly ironic, as students cannot befully prepared for a higher education as the TAAS test remains in itscurrent condition.Various committees of the Texas Education Agency, over seen by the SBOE,develop the test. Since the test’s implementation almost seven thousandclassroom teachers, curriculum specialists, administrators and educationservice center staff have served on one of more of these committees.
(TEA)The following is the list of steps used to create each test, as it isreported from the Texas Education Agency (* is used to show steps that arerepeated annually).; Committees of Texas educators review the state-mandated curriculumto develop appropriate assessment objectives for a specific gradeand/or subject test. Educators provide advice on a model orstructure for assessing the particular subject that aligns withgood classroom instruction.
; Educator committees work with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) toprepare draft objectives, which are distributed widely for reviewby teachers, curriculum specialists, assessment specialists, andadministrators.; Draft objectives and proposed skills are refined based on inputfrom Texas educators.; Sample test items are written to measure each objective and, whennecessary, are piloted by Texas students from volunteer classrooms.
; Educator committees assist in the developing guidelines forassessing each objective. These guidelines outline the eligibletest content and test item formats and include sample items.; With educator input, a preliminary test blueprint is developed thatsets the length of the test and the number of test items measuringeach objective.; Professional item writers, many of whom are former or current Texasteachers, develop items based on the objectives and the itemguidelines.
*; TEA curriculum and assessment specialists review and revise theproposed test items. *; Item review committees composed of Texas educators review therevised items to judge the appropriateness of item content anddifficulty and to eliminate potential bias. *; Items are revised again based on input from Texas educatorcommittee meetings and are field-tested with large representativesamples of Texas students. *; Field-test data are analyzed for reliability, validity, andpossible bias. *; Data review committees composed of Texas educators are trained instatistical analysis of field-test data and review each item andits associated data. The committees determine whether items areappropriate for inclusion in the bank of items from which testforms are built.
*; A final blueprint is developed that establishes the length of thetest and the number of test items measuring each objective. *; All field-test items and data are entered into a computerized itembank. Tests are built from the item bank and are designed to beequivalent in difficulty from one administration to the next. *; Tests are administered to Texas students, and results are reportedat the student, campus, district, regional, and state levels. *; Stringent quality control measures are applied to all stages ofprinting, scanning, scoring, and reporting.
*The TAAS test is composed of five sections: reading, writing, math, scienceand social studies. Since the test’s full implementation in 1994, readingand mathematics has been administered in grades three through eight. Thewriting test is also given in grades four, eight and ten.
In grade eightsocial studies and science are also tested (Klien, 2000). The test iscompletely multiple-choice except for the writing section. In the writingsection students are required to write a short essay along with themultiple choice. The students are given one topic that they must write on;these are typically persuasive papers.
For many students the test does pose a problem. However, several studentsfind it too easy and a waste of their precious time. Because the test wasdesigned to only assess the minimum skills that a student should have inthat grade level, it is often too easy for people who possess slightly morethan what the test measures. However, another factor comes into play here.”The level of achievement expected of our public schools is shockinglylow.” (1997, Judson) Though the test is designed to test the minimumskills that a student should have in a certain grade level, it has oftenbeen found that the test is actually several years below the level.
“Themost rigorous elements in the tenth grade, exit level TAAS test is actuallyeighth grade level material.” (1997, Judson) On top of the test having aneasier caliber of difficulty, the grading level on the test is easier thanone would expect. A passing score is seventy percent. One would thinkthat this is seventy percent of questions correct; however, it is actuallya “seventy percent standard”. This means that the score may have beenadjusted upward to account for “difficult” questions (1997, Judson).The difficulty of the test is shockingly low, and in my opinion is adisgrace to students everywhere. Not only does it make it entirely tooeasy to pass the test for some, but it also sends students into the worldwith a minimal education level.
While students go to school for twelveyears, they are only being required to know enough material for eightyears. While other students across the nation are required to meet therequirements of their grade level, Texas students are tested at a lowerlevel. This gives the Texas students a severe disadvantage to otherstudents throughout the United States. However, because these tests are soeasy the students appear to be scoring higher than other students acrossthe nation. This is a false outward show. The TAAS test is being used toshow the world that Texas students are smarter than others, and giving aforged precedent for other states.
Also, lowering the percentage ofquestions required to be correct in order to pass allows more substandardstudents to get through the test. Especially because the harder questionsare thrown out of the test to allow the scores to be higher, it is becomingeven easier to pass.There is a large problem with the writing test. This section of the testdoes not test students’ actual writing abilities. There are a few multiple-choice questions that have a student choose run-on sentences from sentencefragments. However, because the section of the test that forces thestudent to write an actual essay is always a persuasive paper there islittle talent involved.
Donna Garner, a classroom teacher, says, “Studentsjust have to be taught how to ‘play the game’ by extending their persuasivearguments and by inserting certain ‘approved’ strategies-not how to writewell by using correct English.” (Garner) In 1993 the writing topic was overputting arcade games into school cafeterias. Although this is a topic thatmany school children could write and talk about, it was not much of achallenge. Students are taught to have three arguments and threesupporting points for each argument. As long as a student has these,he/she is almost guaranteed to pass, regardless of the spelling and grammarproblems in the essay.
A well-supported argument is found more importantthan basic English skills.Another major problem with the test is the high-stakes associated with it.The most obvious of these is forcing students to pass the test before theyare allowed to walk across the graduation stage.
Many students who do notfeel qualified enough to pass the test simply give up and drop out withouteven trying. In the 1996-1997 school year, 1.8% of the state’s dropoutsstated failing the TAAS test/not being able to meet all graduationrequirements as the reason that they left school. (TEA) This is part ofthe reason that Texas has the lowest graduation rate in the entire UnitedStates (1997, Judson).
These are the students who need to be given help,and who need special attention, for dropping out of school is rarely theanswer. However, for these students, there is little hope to pass as thereare few special help programs available for them. Other students, who arecompetent to pass the test, get a horrible test anxiety and fail the test.Another major issue that involves high-stakes is the grading of schoolsbased on TAAS test results.
Although only thirty percent of students whopass the test is necessary for a school to be found acceptable, this isoften a sore subject with school districts. Many schools want to be seenas “recognized” schools, and this requires a seventy percent passing rate.Only fourteen percent of Texas schools were seen as recognized in the1994/1995 academic school year (1997, Judson). The amount of money givento a school can also depend on the test scores that their students receive.
These standards require many schools to cheat on the test, and theyreceive higher grades than should have been awarded to them.A few weeksbefore the test the teachers often share “rumors” of what may be on thetest with their students. The Texas Education Agency is given theauthority to take control of any district that is not performing acceptablyby Section 39.131 of the Texas Education Code. This means that the jobpositions of all powerful officials in the district, as well as everythingabout the district, are dependent on the TAAS test grades.
Teachersthemselves are given evaluation on the performance of the students in theirclasses. A teacher can even lose his/her job based on the scores of theirstudents.The high-stakes testing leads to many different problems. The amount ofstudents dropping out is a large issue.
The students who drop out often donot continue education at all. In today’s society a high school degree isrequired of most jobs. If a student does not have one of these degrees andcannot get a job, it leads to a higher unemployment rate. This causes moreissues on the economic well being of the state. Holding the teachers anddistricts accountable for the scores of students is, in itself, a goodidea. However it can have its downfalls. In his speech to the HouseCommittee on Education and the Workforce, Kurt M.
Landgraf, President andChief Executive Officer of the Educational Testing Service said, “Therewards/sanctions system needs to be carefully planned if it is to avoidbeing trivial, counterproductive or corrupted.” The system ofaccountability in Texas is on the verge of this right now. Right now ithas become corrupted, as schools and districts forge and cheat on theirtests so that they can have better scores. The pressure on the localschool districts requires the districts to place a large emphasis on thetests.
The pressure on the school districts and teachers leads to the majorproblem with the TAAS test. “Teaching the Test” has become a large problemin Texas. Most of the curriculum is based on the TAAS test. Studentsspend large quantities of time taking practice tests, or doing work sheetsdesigned to help students be more prepared for the test and understand theworkings of the TAAS test better.
Teachers admit that they are spendinglarge amounts of time on test preparation and that because of the timedevoted to the test there is less time to teach other subjects (Judson,1997).Teaching the test leads to frustration on many parts. The first is thefrustration of students. One can do practice tests and worksheets so manytimes before it gets aggravating. Also, these tests put a student on a one-track mind.
Instead of learning all aspects of reading and writingstudents are merely taught how to pass the test, and how to understand theinformation on the test. This is especially true for elementary and juniorhigh school when the TAAS test is given every year. The students do notlearn everything, and are not given a well-rounded education. Because thesocial studies and science tests are not given until the eighth grade,little time is spent on these subjects at lower grade levels. In order tobe prepared for more advanced classes in high school and college thestudents need to get a good foundation for these classes at a younger age.Students who have friends in other states learn at an early age that theyare missing out on many fundamentals, and come to resent school andteachers for leaving them out of a true educational experience.
Thoughthese tests are designed to ensure that students are learning what they aresupposed to, in all actuality it hinders their learning process while inpublic schools and later in higher education.The people who resent standardized testing the most is the teachers. Manyof the best teachers enter their field of work because they want to teach.The teachers quickly learn that they are not allowed to teach as they wouldlike to, and are often hindered from teaching everything that they believea student should know. Bread Loaf Scholar, National Writing Project andhigh school English teacher, Vivian Axiotis composed this poem to expressher frustration with the affect of standardized testing (English Journal,2001): My students have lostFaith in the value of tests Faith in their ability to succeed,Faith in the educational systemAs a teacher I have lostFaith in the value of tests Faith in their ability to succeed,Faith in the system that once worked so well for me My students have lostTime to write, especially creatively,Time to read a poem alongside the short story we’re studyingTime to integrate other disciplines, ideasAs a teacher I have lostTime to write, especially creatively, Time to find, then share a poem alongside the short story we’re readingTime to integrate other disciplines, ideas Even though I know this is far more importantTeachers do not want to spend weeks and months on drilling test informationinstead of spending time reading books and doing science experiments(English Journal, 2001, 33). However, these drills and exercises havebecome part of the state and local curriculum, and the teachers know thatnot following that curriculum could lead to them losing the jobs that theylove so much. Teaching their students to do well on the TAAS test hasbecome the job of teachers in the Texas Educational System, and the job ofteaching the students to learn and to enjoy learning has been left behind.
The Texas school districts have been experiencing an extreme drought in thepool for new teachers. This can partially be related back to the TAAStest. Because of all of the restrictions put on teachers, many teachers donot want to deal with the administration. Many good teachers, who love thestudents and their job, have left teaching simply because of all of thepressure being placed on them. Many administration officials are notwilling to give them leeway on their plans or dealings with the students,as they do not want to risk a lowering in the TAAS scores in their school.
There are many meetings and training sessions over the TAAS test, and theseare all mandatory for teachers. The teachers, who throw in the towel onthe helping their students learn, do it because the TAAS has taken over theclassroom, and left the true learning outside the school.The TAAS test is a hot topic in the educational world, even for those notfrom the state of Texas.
Because of the easiness of the test, thereward/punishment system for districts, and the time spent teaching thetest, the TAAS test scores in Texas are actually on the rise. Due to thisfact, many other school systems are trying to reproduce the TAAS test,hoping that it will improve their students’ scores as well. This idea isdrawing much criticism and analysis of the TAAS test from people across thenation. The problems are coming out. The only way to solve thediscrepancies between these tests is for Texas to return to using anationally recognized test.
This would force the students to compete withtheir peers across the nation, and force the teachers to meet nationalstandards. This would keep the Texans from living in their own littleworld, and thrust them into the rest of the country’s high standards. Anational test would also give teachers the ability to teach more freely andadd different things to the curriculum that they find important. Asteachers are given more freedom they can adjust the lessons to the studentsin any given year, rather than giving students the same TAAS practicesheets year after year. When a teacher can plan his/her lessons around thestudents currently enrolled in his/her class, the students will more thanlikely learn more.
Instead of simply using the test as an analysis of the local schooldistrict and teacher, the test results need to focus more on the individualstudent. Though all students are given the results of their tests, it haslittle to no actual use to them. Kurt M. Landgraf said, “These resultsshould be used to diagnose a student’s needs, to help determine promotionto the next grade, or to suggest remediation.” This does not happen veryregularly in the Texas school system. Students are often passed to thenext grade level even though they are not able to pass these tests, whichare in fact on a level below them. This simply forces the student tobecome farther behind in their learning.
Though individual assessment wouldtake more work on the teachers’ part, it would add greatly to the amountthat a single student learns, adding to the greatness of the whole. Thoughusing the test to determine the students’ eligibility to move on to thenext grade level would simply add to the high-stakes of the test, using thetest to determine a students placement in remediation would help givecertain students more help in areas that they are struggling to understand.This does have a downfall, as there are many ways for this good intentionto go wrong. Having fifty year old third graders simply because they cannot test is not the answer. Students who fail the test must be watchedcarefully and given the proper help to more on. Implementing a law to makestudents pass would do no good if programs were not put into place thatwould help those students who have difficulty with the test.
At this time the State Board of Education has adopted a new test. TheTexas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) test will be replacing the TAAStest for the first time in almost ten years. Little is known about thistest, and there are no results on it as this will be the first year that itwill be given. This test has been in talks for a long time and the criesof teachers and students who resent the test are finally being answered.
The hope for this test is that it will improve the morale of the studentsand teachers, and that this test will improve the education of the state’sstudents. Because the test covers all five areas (math, reading, writing,science and social studies) annually and therefore should give Texasstudents a more well rounded education. However, there doesn’t seem to bemuch hope for this test among teachers and administrators. To these peopleit is just another item in a line of frustrations.One may ask, why, if there are so many problems, does the government not doanything to correct these problems? In response: there is no real reason.It is obvious that those in charge of the tests have realized that there issomething wrong, as they are now releasing the TEKS test. This is one stepin solving the many problems.
However, by raising the difficulty of thetest and making it harder to pass, scores will most likely go down. Bylowering the scores the Texas education system will lose all of the praiseand attention that it has been receiving for the rapidly rising scores.For those who do not look closely into the information behind thestandardized test problem in Texas, there really seems to be nothing butgood going on. As long as test scores are on the rise, everything must befine. Unfortunately this is not the case; everything is not fine.
Andthose who think that everything in are resorting to the “if it isn’t brokedon’t fix it” mentality. While Texas appears good on paper, somethingneeds to be done to fix the things not on paper; the children need to behelped. Maybe this is the reason that the government sits idly by as thechildren fall further behind their peers from other states.The Texas Education System is doing its best to ensure that its children doget a good education, there just seems to be a few snags in their road togreatness.
Their best intentions seem to have turned against them, simplyleading to problems. By analyzing their problems, they can come to asolution that will be the lesser of evils, for there can never be a trueperfect policy. Maybe with a few changes they can quiet the walk to thetest room. Maybe they can do something to make the students feel better,as well as the teachers and administrators. Along the way, they canimprove the education in the state and start sending more prepared studentsinto the real world. I have neither given or received, nor have I tolerated others’ use ofunauthorized aid.
BIBLIOGRAPHY(September 2001). English Journal: Assessing Ourselves to Death.Judson, J. (April 1997).
The True State of Texas Education. Texas PublicPolicyFoundation: www.tppf.orgGarner, D. Texas Alternative Document.
htmlKlien, S., & Hamilton, L., & McCaffrey, D., Stecher, B.
(2000). What DoTestScores in Texas Tell Us? RAND: www.rand.
orgLandgraf, K. (2001). Testimony Before the Education Reform Subcommittee.
The Texas Education Agency Webpage. www.tea.state.tx.
usThe Texas State Senate Webpage. www.senate.state.tx.us