Monday, May 14, 2007

No cap and gown for TAKS refugees

See earlier post. We definitely need a change. I applaud the Statesman for their reasoned concern for our high-stakes testing environment. -Angela

No cap and gown for TAKS refugees
EDITORIAL BOARD /Austin American-Statesman
Monday, May 14, 2007

Legislators should keep in mind the 39,095 public school students who won't graduate with their senior class this year as they consider what to do about the state's high-stakes testing system. That is 16 percent of the state's 244,346 senior class for 2007.

Many of those students earned the right number of credits, passed all their courses and had good attendance. Yet, their future opportunities for college and the work force will be limited because they won't have high school diplomas. Those students were tripped up by a single test — the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills.

State law requires that students pass an exit TAKS in four subjects to graduate — math, language arts, science and social studies. Failure to pass any of the four tests means no diploma.

Everyone agrees with the goal of setting high standards and ensuring that students can read, write and compute on a high school level before they get diplomas. Colleges want to know they can do that. Employers want to know they can do that. Mom and Dad want to know they can do that.

But in too many instances, high-stakes testing undermines an equally important goal of education — teaching students how to think and analyze. Teachers spend too much time teaching the test — what kind of pencil to use, techniques to pass multiple choice and standardized tests and so on.

We share parents' and teachers' disappointment and frustration with the state's TAKS system. It is rigid, narrows the curriculum and places too much emphasis on a single exam. The TAKS has created a class of students in Texas who are neither high school graduates nor dropouts. They are what we call TAKS refugees. It's time for the TAKS barrier to come down.

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, passed a bill through the Senate that would maintain high standards and accountability while de-emphasizing high stakes testing. Senate Bill 1031 would greatly improve the system by placing the emphasis on testing what students learn in the classroom, and free teachers to teach subjects rather than tests. It requires high school students to take end-of-course exams to test their knowledge in English, math, science and social studies. Students still would have to pass with a 70, but the tests would make up only 15 percent of their overall grade.

Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, chairman of the House Public Education Committee, is shepherding Shapiro's bill through the House, where it could come up this week for a vote. His substitute plan for Shapiro's bill has two key changes: Schools would shift to end-of-course exams in 2011 instead of 2009, as Shapiro's bill stipulates. That seems reasonable because it would give the state or districts more time to develop new exams. Eissler's measure also would require students to pass four tests to graduate in upper-level high school courses in language arts, math, science and history.

In that regard, Shapiro's bill is better because it allows students to score an average of 70 on all tests so that no one exam prevents them from graduating. So a gifted math student who makes a superior score in math and science but a lesser score in history or English won't be denied a diploma.

We know that hundreds of students in Austin and across Texas won't graduate because they failed the TAKS this year. The Legislature can and should remove the TAKS barrier so that public schools are not limiting opportunities for students.

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