Tuesday, March 01, 2005

11-year-old boy protests TAKS, Refuses to Take This Year's Exams

Fifth-grader says too much emphasis is placed on tests
The Valley Morning Star

EDINBURG ˜ A local boy‚s protest of the state assessment tests has drawn national media attention.

Saying too much emphasis is placed on the Texas Assessment for Knowledge and Skills exams, fifth-grader Macario Guajardo is refusing to take this year‚s TAKS reading, math and science tests.

"In fourth grade, I was under a lot of pressure for the TAKS, and I decided I wanted to something about it," he said. "Teachers focused on TAKS, and it wasn‚t fun for us anymore. Sometimes we had to stay in from recess to prepare for it. It was a lot of worksheets."

With his parents‚ permission, the student who makes As and Bs skipped school Wednesday to miss the reading test. He declined to take a makeup exam Thursday.

State law says students must pass TAKS tests to pass each grade level. In cases of TAKS failures, a committee of parents, teachers and a principal must decide whether the student can advance.

Macario, 11, has already appeared in articles in The New York Times. Network TV news stations including NBC and Telemundo have also contacted his parents and school officials.

Macario said he hasn‚t received any bad vibes from teachers or students and that many seem to support him.

Although he grew up hearing his father‚s complaints about TAKS, the protest idea was entirely Macario‚s, he said.

"I decided I want to protest it. I‚ll pulled my dad aside and said I wanted to something," he said.

Macario‚s parents are behind him 100 percent, said Francisco Guajardo, assistant professor in the University of Texas-Pan American‚s educational leadership program.

"He stopped having fun at school. For me, it just broke my heart to see my son frustrated, upset, even angry," he said.

Guajardo previously taught at the Edcouch-Elsa school district, where he continues to direct the Llano Grande Center for Research and Development. Macario‚s mother, Yvonne, teaches computer skills at Edinburg North High School.

Guajardo said he probably influenced Macario‚s opinions.

"We‚ve been talking about this since Mac was a little baby. Mac grew up with this," he said. "I like the TAKS. ∑ I‚m not in support of the way it‚s done. The whole school is organized around ∑ the test. Teaching to the objective on the test ˜ that‚s pervasive (in the area)."

TAKS scores don‚t improve graduation rates or SAT scores, Guajardo said.

Robert E. Lee Elementary has an exemplary designation ˜ the state‚s highest rating. But the achievement comes at a cost, Guajardo said.

Teachers have little time to encourage students in imaginative, creative work. Macario hasn‚t once had an art class in his elementary years, he said.

Although the protest is unprecedented in the area, Edinburg school district officials will treat it step-by-step according to the Texas Education Code, said Superintendent J.L. Salinas.

They‚re considering Macario‚s Thursday test skip a failure. If he declines to take future tests and retests, officials will treat them as failures, as well, Salinas said.

A grade placement committee of his parents, teachers and principal would decide whether he can advance to middle school.

Macario said he‚s confident the committee will pass him.

He said he‚d like to see commitees ˜ not TAKS scores ˜ determine whether all students pass, based on success in areas other than state tasting. And he hopes the national media attention will help him achieve his goal.

"If I‚m able to change people‚s minds around the Valley, think of how many people‚s minds I could change across the nation," he said.

Salinas said he‚s in communication with Macario‚s parents and isn‚t worried about the way failing scores could affect the school district‚s reports.

"I support that the child has done a lot of this on his own. That speaks well of the child," he said.

"We always take pride in the development of individual thinkers. ∑ I respect individuals that take a stand for something."

Macario said his fifth-grade teachers are doing a better job of making class interesting this year than last, but he has other Valley students on his mind.

"I‚m doing this for all kids, so kids will be happy when they go to school, so kids will want to go to school," he said.

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