Tuesday, February 20, 2007

It's TAKS Test Day

The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) is being administered across Texas today, and for students, teachers, administrators, and school districts a great deal weighs upon the results. Third grade students must pass the Reading test to be promoted to the 4th grade; 11th graders must pass all four subject areas of the Exit-Level exam to be eligible to graduate; teachers and administrators may be eligible for bonuses; campus and district state accountability ratings depend largely upon not only the overall performance of their students, but also upon the performance of multiple subgroups of students - Ethnic groups, Low socioeconomic groups, special education students, limited English speakers all affect both state accountability ratings and Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind act.

Accountability is a good thing; I have been in numerous conversations with superintendents, teachers, and other administrators and have yet to find one who does not believe that they should be held accountable for the learning of the students for whom they are responsible. Over the past dozen years or so, Texas has been at the forefront of identifying what it's students should know and/or be able to do (TEKS - Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) and aligning its assessment system to test what it expects its students to know (TAKS - Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills). During that time, the academic performance of all students in Texas has improved steadily.

What educators (and more and more the general public) recognize that the legislature and other powers that be seem not to recognize is that a single multiple choice test, no matter how rigorous and how well aligned to teaching, should not be the sole criterion for accountability. It is not possible to measure such traits as creativity, innovative thinking, complex problem solving - those things that Singapore's Minister of Education said that American education does so well - with a single assessment. That's why teachers' and parents' complaints about teaching to the test have some validity. If the assessment measures what students should know, teachers should teach to the test; the problem is that the assessment cannot measure some of the most important skills, and those are the ones that are sometimes ignored because entirely too much hangs in the balance based on test taking performance.

The crux of what I'm trying to say is that educators believe in accountability; they want it to be measured adequately, accurately, and fairly.

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