TAKS offer needed accountability, but stakes too high
Bush Elementary School fifth-graders took the first round of math TAKS Tuesday.
In two weeks, Principal Jill Arthur will find out how her students did. Meanwhile, she waits, but she's not the only nervous one.
"It is very high stakes. We had vomiting today. That's what hurts my feelings," Arthur said, adding the pressure on the students is what makes them physically ill.
Arthur was expressing her personal viewpoint on state-mandated testing as part of a Midland League of Women Voters forum on the subject held at Emerson Elementary School. The panel also included Midland High School Principal Linda Jolly and Emerson Elementary teacher Donna Byerlotzer.
Arthur said she believes all students can learn, but they may not acquire knowledge at the same pace.
"I'm going to be very curious in a few years to see what happens with our dropout rate. I'm very concerned to see what happens to these students in the upper grades," Arthur said.
If students don't pass TAKS the first time, they take it again, then a third time in summer school. Should a student not pass the test in summer school, they could be held back.
Officials said everything is done to intervene -- reading recovery, tutorials during and after school and on Saturdays. However, it's not always possible to get high school kids to come back for tutorials.
Proposed legislation to replace TAKS with end-of-course exams is something Jolly endorses, although she doesn't agree with everything in the bill. Ninth graders in 2009-10 would be the first to take the test, should it be approved.
The bill would implement 12 end-of-course exams -- three in each subject and testing would be conducted right after completing a year in that subject. A composite score of 840 would be needed to graduate, Jolly said.
Jolly said she thinks the exam still needs to be field tested and she is skeptical the proposed exam can be offered via computer when there aren't enough computers to go around. The results would be available more quickly on computer, which she likes, but it also would require her to shut down school during testing periods.
Although school officials agree accountability is necessary, Jolly said state and federal rules measure all student learning the same way, which she doesn't think is possible. To graduate, 11th grade students have to pass all four sections of the EXIT TAKS -- math, science, English/language arts and social studies.
The greatest failure rates are in math and science followed by English/language arts. Social studies usually yields the most success, Jolly said. Recent immigrants, students who have been in the United States less than a year, enter high school and Jolly has a limited time to get them ready to take the EXIT test.
Midland High offers English as a second language classes, but the number of students is too great for the teacher and aide assigned to teach the course. "We have a great teacher. We have a great aide, but we just don't have the manpower," Jolly said, adding what's needed is smaller classes.
Teachers in attendance endorsed the state-mandated Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills but Arthur acknowledged some creativity has been taken out of education by the test.
"Some of the creativity, the teachable moment has gone away," because we have these guidelines, she said. "I still think teachers can be creative. A lot of it has to do with leadership. There are many creative ways to teach inferences and vocabulary."
TAKS has made teachers more effective, Emerson Principal Mary Smith said, but she doesn't like what's being done with tests now. She pointed out an article in the Reporter-Telegram about 44 Dallas teachers who could be fired for poor test scores.
"Instead of using the test to evaluate where students are, we're using the test to drive our schools," Smith said. She added she wants every student at her school to earn commended performance.
Byerlotzer echoed Smith's feelings that TAKS has its good points.
"Because of TAKS, because of clearly stated objectives and a test to match," it shows teachers are doing their jobs and it's easier to plan her classes, Byerlotzer said.