Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Lawmakers: Standardized-test overhaul to be a priority

Dec. 6, 2006, 9:13PM
Lawmakers: Standardized-test overhaul to be a priority

Associated Press

AUSTIN — Legislative leaders said today that revamping standardized testing for high school students will be a top priority during the upcoming legislative session.

Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he'll ask lawmakers to approve a plan to replace the sweeping Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills with end-of-course exams in each of the core high school subjects. The proposal also could require high school juniors and seniors to take the ACT or SAT college entrance exams at state expense.

The 140-day legislative sessions starts Jan. 9.

Teachers already have expressed opposition to end-of-course exams.

"All you're doing is taking one big test and making that many more tests that they still have to pass to pass the course," said Adam Rondeau, a spokesman for the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

The high-stakes nature of the TAKS test came under fire during this year's gubernatorial campaign. Many teachers and parents have complained that too much time in the classroom is spent preparing students for the test.

The federal No Child Left Behind law requires states to use standardized testing to measure students' progress each year. Teacher bonuses also are tied to test results.

"I think now is the time we need to start to moving towards end-of-course exams," Dewhurst said. "It'll eliminate a lot of the concerns and the criticisms by our teachers."

Dewhurst acknowledged that the proposal was still in the planning stages and many details had not been finalized.

An advantage of moving to end-of-course exams would be that students are tested only in the subjects that they have taken, said Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, who heads the Senate Education Committee.

Under the TAKS structure, for instance, a 10th-grade student taking algebra still might be tested on geometry curriculum, even though the student hasn't yet taken geometry, Shapiro said.

"The teacher is having to teach them geometry to answer the questions on this cumulative TAKS test," Shapiro said.

Students take the TAKS every year starting in the third grade, and cannot advance to certain grades unless they pass certain subjects. Proficiency in all six subjects is required for graduation. Schools face sanctions ranging from staff changes to closure if too many students fail for four years in a row.

"We've got to maintain some objective standard to evaluate how we're doing vis-a-vis other states," Dewhurst said. "And I think an SAT test or an ACT test where every student is required to take it is probably a good medium. Again, that's more of a comprehensive test so we won't have that concern about teaching to the test."

The TAKS test could get a makeover in lower grades, too.

"We're probably going to reformulate that TAKS test, also," Shapiro said. "I think there needs to be some changes."

Dewhurst and Shapiro both said they'd also like to overhaul the way school facilities are funded and pass legislation to address charter schools during the session.

"I think charter schools is a major issue," Shapiro said.

"We need to encourage those (that are successful) and close those that are doing very poor jobs."

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