Sunday, February 13, 2005

A Smart Idea for TAKS Test


A Smart Idea for TAKS Test
Sunday, February 13, 2005

Texas teachers and students are TAKSed-out.

Who can blame them? At many schools, the focus on the state's standardized testing is so great that teachers are cheating, schools are manipulating data and students are playing hooky. To keep scores up, some campuses are sorting children, sending the ones at risk of failing exams home on testing days or labeling them in ways that exempt them from testing or their scores from being counted.

This is madness.

We're all for assessing students' abilities, as the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exam aims to do. Public schools certainly have improved because of such accountability. But it's gone beyond what anyone imagined. Texas has created a testing monster that pretty much determines curriculum, promotion, campus bonuses and graduation.

Finally a breath of fresh air is offered by state Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, chairman of the House Public Education Committee.

Instead of paper and pencil tests, Grusendorf's bill would have students take tests online. TAKS would be replaced with end-of-course tests — a better assessment because such exams, as Grusendorf points out, would test for the entire curriculum, provide broader skill levels and give better feedback.

Under the format, all students would start with basic questions. A right answer prompts the computer to feed tougher questions. Answer wrong and the computer prompts easier questions. The computer provides an instant score at the end of the test and does something more — points out students' strengths and where they need improvement. That would give teachers the feedback to immediately address academic deficiencies and allow them to allocate more challenging work to students who score well.

Criticism that high-stakes testing drives curriculum, forcing teachers to narrow instruction to only those items on the test, is legitimate. Grusendorf's proposal would shift that focus to where it should be — on assessment of a student's academic skills.

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