With number two pencils in hand

Each year students across the nation are forced into rooms where no talking is allowed. They come equipped with number two pencils and a years preparation. They are there to take a standardized test. In Texas this test is called the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. Many students walk into this test knowing that they will pass and knowing that their time would be better spent in thousands of different areas. Other students come in highly anxious, knowing that not passing the test means that they will not graduate. As they walk in everyone discusses the stupidity of the test, and the desire to be anywhere but there.

These discussions start as soon as students start taking these tests, in the first grade. As the students get older, the conversations become more complicated, analyzing all of the problems behind the test: the tests low caliber of difficulty, the high-stakes of the test, and teaching just to pass the test. Many states throughout the United States have installed a nationally recognized test to give to their students. These tests allow students across many different states to be compared. Originally Texas did use one of these nationally recognized tests.

However, in 1980, they stopped using such tests and began to create a test of their own. This test slowly evolved into the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, which was adopted in 1990. The idea behind this test was to specifically measure the elements that the Texas Education Code finds essential in each grade level. The test is retaken annually in grades three through eight, and an exit level test is given in the tenth grade. Students must pass the tenth grade test before graduation; therefore, they retake it every year until they pass it. (1997, Judson)

The State Board of Education (SBOE) oversees all of the procedures for the creation of the test, along with the rest of the Texas educational system. The governor appoints the commissioner for this board and the board members, who are representatives of fifteen areas of the state, are elected among the rest of the board. Everything that happens in the Texas education world must go through these people first. The board members head committees on planning, instruction and school finance. However, the SBOE must report back to the state government. The states senate has an education committee.

This committee passes laws and allocates money to pass onto the SBOE. The chairman of this committee is Senator Teel Bivens (Republican), from Amarillo. He is currently in his third session as chairman of this committee. He has done many wonderful things for the education world, but seems to have stayed away from the standardized tests of the state. While new teacher recruitment and making higher education more accessible have been large on the committees agenda; standardized tests do not appear. This seems slightly ironic, as students cannot be fully prepared for a higher education as the TAAS test remains in its current condition.

Various committees of the Texas Education Agency, over seen by the SBOE, develop the test. Since the tests implementation almost seven thousand classroom teachers, curriculum specialists, administrators and education service center staff have served on one of more of these committees. (TEA) The following is the list of steps used to create each test, as it is reported from the Texas Education Agency (* is used to show steps that are repeated annually). Committees of Texas educators review the state-mandated curriculum to develop appropriate assessment objectives for a specific grade and/or subject test.

Educators provide advice on a model or structure for assessing the particular subject that aligns with good classroom instruction. Educator committees work with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to prepare draft objectives, which are distributed widely for review by teachers, curriculum specialists, assessment specialists, and administrators. Draft objectives and proposed skills are refined based on input from Texas educators. Sample test items are written to measure each objective and, when necessary, are piloted by Texas students from volunteer classrooms. Educator committees assist in the developing guidelines for assessing each objective.

These guidelines outline the eligible test content and test item formats and include sample items. With educator input, a preliminary test blueprint is developed that sets the length of the test and the number of test items measuring each objective. Professional item writers, many of whom are former or current Texas teachers, develop items based on the objectives and the item guidelines. * TEA curriculum and assessment specialists review and revise the proposed test items. * Item review committees composed of Texas educators review the revised items to judge the appropriateness of item content and difficulty and to eliminate potential bias. Items are revised again based on input from Texas educator committee meetings and are field-tested with large representative samples of Texas students.

* Field-test data are analyzed for reliability, validity, and possible bias. * Data review committees composed of Texas educators are trained in statistical analysis of field-test data and review each item and its associated data. The committees determine whether items are appropriate for inclusion in the bank of items from which test forms are built. * A final blueprint is developed that establishes the length of the test and the number of test items measuring each objective.

All field-test items and data are entered into a computerized item bank. Tests are built from the item bank and are designed to be equivalent in difficulty from one administration to the next. * Tests are administered to Texas students, and results are reported at the student, campus, district, regional, and state levels. * Stringent quality control measures are applied to all stages of printing, scanning, scoring, and reporting. * The TAAS test is composed of five sections: reading, writing, math, science and social studies.

Since the tests full implementation in 1994, reading and mathematics has been administered in grades three through eight. The writing test is also given in grades four, eight and ten. In grade eight social studies and science are also tested (Klien, 2000). The test is completely multiple-choice except for the writing section. In the writing section students are required to write a short essay along with the multiple choice. The students are given one topic that they must write on; these are typically persuasive papers. For many students the test does pose a problem.

However, several students find it too easy and a waste of their precious time. Because the test was designed to only assess the minimum skills that a student should have in that grade level, it is often too easy for people who possess slightly more than what the test measures. However, another factor comes into play here. The level of achievement expected of our public schools is shockingly low. (1997, Judson) Though the test is designed to test the minimum skills that a student should have in a certain grade level, it has often been found that the test is actually several years below the level.

The most rigorous elements in the tenth grade, exit level TAAS test is actually eighth grade level material. (1997, Judson) On top of the test having an easier caliber of difficulty, the grading level on the test is easier than one would expect. A passing score is seventy percent. One would think that this is seventy percent of questions correct; however, it is actually a seventy percent standard. This means that the score may have been adjusted upward to account for difficult questions (1997, Judson). The difficulty of the test is shockingly low, and in my opinion is a disgrace to students everywhere.

Not only does it make it entirely too easy to pass the test for some, but it also sends students into the world with a minimal education level. While students go to school for twelve years, they are only being required to know enough material for eight years. While other students across the nation are required to meet the requirements of their grade level, Texas students are tested at a lower level. This gives the Texas students a severe disadvantage to other students throughout the United States. However, because these tests are so easy the students appear to be scoring higher than other students across the nation.

This is a false outward show. The TAAS test is being used to show the world that Texas students are smarter than others, and giving a forged precedent for other states. Also, lowering the percentage of questions required to be correct in order to pass allows more substandard students to get through the test. Especially because the harder questions are thrown out of the test to allow the scores to be higher, it is becoming even easier to pass. There is a large problem with the writing test. This section of the test does not test students actual writing abilities.

There are a few multiple-choice questions that have a student choose run-on sentences from sentence fragments. However, because the section of the test that forces the student to write an actual essay is always a persuasive paper there is little talent involved. Donna Garner, a classroom teacher, says, Students just have to be taught how to play the game by extending their persuasive arguments and by inserting certain approved strategiesnot how to write well by using correct English. (Garner) In 1993 the writing topic was over putting arcade games into school cafeterias.

Although this is a topic that many school children could write and talk about, it was not much of a challenge. Students are taught to have three arguments and three supporting points for each argument. As long as a student has these, he/she is almost guaranteed to pass, regardless of the spelling and grammar problems in the essay. A well-supported argument is found more important than basic English skills. Another major problem with the test is the high-stakes associated with it. The most obvious of these is forcing students to pass the test before they are allowed to walk across the graduation stage.

Many students who do not feel qualified enough to pass the test simply give up and drop out without even trying. In the 1996-1997 school year, 1. 8% of the states dropouts stated failing the TAAS test/not being able to meet all graduation requirements as the reason that they left school. (TEA) This is part of the reason that Texas has the lowest graduation rate in the entire United States (1997, Judson). These are the students who need to be given help, and who need special attention, for dropping out of school is rarely the answer.

However, for these students, there is little hope to pass as there are few special help programs available for them. Other students, who are competent to pass the test, get a horrible test anxiety and fail the test. Another major issue that involves high-stakes is the grading of schools based on TAAS test results. Although only thirty percent of students who pass the test is necessary for a school to be found acceptable, this is often a sore subject with school districts. Many schools want to be seen as recognized schools, and this requires a seventy percent passing rate.

Only fourteen percent of Texas schools were seen as recognized in the 1994/1995 academic school year (1997, Judson). The amount of money given to a school can also depend on the test scores that their students receive. These standards require many schools to cheat on the test, and they receive higher grades than should have been awarded to them. A few weeks before the test the teachers often share rumors of what may be on the test with their students.

The Texas Education Agency is given the authority to take control of any district that is not performing acceptably by Section 39. 31 of the Texas Education Code. This means that the job positions of all powerful officials in the district, as well as everything about the district, are dependent on the TAAS test grades. Teachers themselves are given evaluation on the performance of the students in their classes. A teacher can even lose his/her job based on the scores of their students. The high-stakes testing leads to many different problems. The amount of students dropping out is a large issue. The students who drop out often do not continue education at all. In todays society a high school degree is required of most jobs.

If a student does not have one of these degrees and cannot get a job, it leads to a higher unemployment rate. This causes more issues on the economic well being of the state. Holding the teachers and districts accountable for the scores of students is, in itself, a good idea. However it can have its downfalls. In his speech to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Kurt M. Landgraf, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Educational Testing Service said, The rewards/sanctions system needs to be carefully planned if it is to avoid being trivial, counterproductive or corrupted.

The system of accountability in Texas is on the verge of this right now. Right now it has become corrupted, as schools and districts forge and cheat on their tests so that they can have better scores. The pressure on the local school districts requires the districts to place a large emphasis on the tests. The pressure on the school districts and teachers leads to the major problem with the TAAS test. Teaching the Test has become a large problem in Texas. Most of the curriculum is based on the TAAS test.

Students spend large quantities of time taking practice tests, or doing work sheets designed to help students be more prepared for the test and understand the workings of the TAAS test better. Teachers admit that they are spending large amounts of time on test preparation and that because of the time devoted to the test there is less time to teach other subjects (Judson, 1997). Teaching the test leads to frustration on many parts. The first is the frustration of students. One can do practice tests and worksheets so many times before it gets aggravating. Also, these tests put a student on a one-track mind.

Instead of learning all aspects of reading and writing students are merely taught how to pass the test, and how to understand the information on the test. This is especially true for elementary and junior high school when the TAAS test is given every year. The students do not learn everything, and are not given a well-rounded education. Because the social studies and science tests are not given until the eighth grade, little time is spent on these subjects at lower grade levels. In order to be prepared for more advanced classes in high school and college the students need to get a good foundation for these classes at a younger age.

Students who have friends in other states learn at an early age that they are missing out on many fundamentals, and come to resent school and teachers for leaving them out of a true educational experience. Though these tests are designed to ensure that students are learning what they are supposed to, in all actuality it hinders their learning process while in public schools and later in higher education. The people who resent standardized testing the most is the teachers. Many of the best teachers enter their field of work because they want to teach.

The teachers quickly learn that they are not allowed to teach as they would like to, and are often hindered from teaching everything that they believe a student should know. Bread Loaf Scholar, National Writing Project and high school English teacher, Vivian Axiotis composed this poem to express her frustration with the affect of standardized testing (English Journal, 2001): My students have lost Faith in the value of tests Faith in their ability to succeed, Faith in the educational system As a teacher I have lost Faith in the value of tests Faith in their ability to succeed,

Faith in the system that once worked so well for me My students have lost Time to write, especially creatively, Time to read a poem alongside the short story were studying Time to integrate other disciplines, ideas As a teacher I have lost Time to write, especially creatively, Time to find, then share a poem alongside the short story were reading Time to integrate other disciplines, ideas Even though I know this is far more important Teachers do not want to spend weeks and months on drilling test information instead of spending time reading books and doing science experiments (English Journal, 2001, 33).

However, these drills and exercises have become part of the state and local curriculum, and the teachers know that not following that curriculum could lead to them losing the jobs that they love so much. Teaching their students to do well on the TAAS test has become the job of teachers in the Texas Educational System, and the job of teaching the students to learn and to enjoy learning has been left behind. The Texas school districts have been experiencing an extreme drought in the pool for new teachers. This can partially be related back to the TAAS test.

Because of all of the restrictions put on teachers, many teachers do not want to deal with the administration. Many good teachers, who love the students and their job, have left teaching simply because of all of the pressure being placed on them. Many administration officials are not willing to give them leeway on their plans or dealings with the students, as they do not want to risk a lowering in the TAAS scores in their school. There are many meetings and training sessions over the TAAS test, and these are all mandatory for teachers.

The teachers, who throw in the towel on the helping their students learn, do it because the TAAS has taken over the classroom, and left the true learning outside the school. The TAAS test is a hot topic in the educational world, even for those not from the state of Texas. Because of the easiness of the test, the reward/punishment system for districts, and the time spent teaching the test, the TAAS test scores in Texas are actually on the rise. Due to this fact, many other school systems are trying to reproduce the TAAS test, hoping that it will improve their students scores as well.

This idea is drawing much criticism and analysis of the TAAS test from people across the nation. The problems are coming out. The only way to solve the discrepancies between these tests is for Texas to return to using a nationally recognized test. This would force the students to compete with their peers across the nation, and force the teachers to meet national standards. This would keep the Texans from living in their own little world, and thrust them into the rest of the country’s high standards. A national test would also give teachers the ability to teach more freely and add different things to the curriculum that they find important.

As teachers are given more freedom they can adjust the lessons to the students in any given year, rather than giving students the same TAAS practice sheets year after year. When a teacher can plan his/her lessons around the students currently enrolled in his/her class, the students will more than likely learn more. Instead of simply using the test as an analysis of the local school district and teacher, the test results need to focus more on the individual student. Though all students are given the results of their tests, it has little to no actual use to them. Kurt M.

Landgraf said, These results should be used to diagnose a students needs, to help determine promotion to the next grade, or to suggest remediation. This does not happen very regularly in the Texas school system. Students are often passed to the next grade level even though they are not able to pass these tests, which are in fact on a level below them. This simply forces the student to become farther behind in their learning. Though individual assessment would take more work on the teachers part, it would add greatly to the amount that a single student learns, adding to the greatness of the whole.

Though using the test to determine the students eligibility to move on to the next grade level would simply add to the high-stakes of the test, using the test to determine a students placement in remediation would help give certain students more help in areas that they are struggling to understand. This does have a downfall, as there are many ways for this good intention to go wrong. Having fifty year old third graders simply because they can not test is not the answer. Students who fail the test must be watched carefully and given the proper help to more on.

Implementing a law to make students pass would do no good if programs were not put into place that would help those students who have difficulty with the test. At this time the State Board of Education has adopted a new test. The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) test will be replacing the TAAS test for the first time in almost ten years. Little is known about this test, and there are no results on it as this will be the first year that it will be given. This test has been in talks for a long time and the cries of teachers and students who resent the test are finally being answered.

The hope for this test is that it will improve the morale of the students and teachers, and that this test will improve the education of the states students. Because the test covers all five areas (math, reading, writing, science and social studies) annually and therefore should give Texas students a more well rounded education. However, there doesnt seem to be much hope for this test among teachers and administrators. To these people it is just another item in a line of frustrations. One may ask, why, if there are so many problems, does the government not do anything to correct these problems?

In response: there is no real reason. It is obvious that those in charge of the tests have realized that there is something wrong, as they are now releasing the TEKS test. This is one step in solving the many problems. However, by raising the difficulty of the test and making it harder to pass, scores will most likely go down. By lowering the scores the Texas education system will lose all of the praise and attention that it has been receiving for the rapidly rising scores. For those who do not look closely into the information behind the standardized test problem in Texas, there really seems to be nothing but good going on.

As long as test scores are on the rise, everything must be fine. Unfortunately this is not the case; everything is not fine. And those who think that everything in are resorting to the if it isnt broke dont fix it mentality. While Texas appears good on paper, something needs to be done to fix the things not on paper; the children need to be helped. Maybe this is the reason that the government sits idly by as the children fall further behind their peers from other states. The Texas Education System is doing its best to ensure that its children do get a good education, there just seems to be a few snags in their road to greatness.

Their best intentions seem to have turned against them, simply leading to problems. By analyzing their problems, they can come to a solution that will be the lesser of evils, for there can never be a true perfect policy. Maybe with a few changes they can quiet the walk to the test room. Maybe they can do something to make the students feel better, as well as the teachers and administrators. Along the way, they can improve the education in the state and start sending more prepared students into the real world. I have neither given or received, nor have I tolerated others use of unauthorized aid.


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