As I reflect upon this coming week, I am reminded that every third through 10th/11th grader is taking at least one version of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests this week. In Texas, state testing is a huge deal. From the time the kids hit the door in August until this week not a lesson, activity, class period, or conference period goes by without a mention of TAKS preparation or testing. I am going on my 19th year of education in Texas and when I started teaching we administered the Texas Assessment of Basic Skills (TABS). Then we administered the TEAMS test. I forgot what the acronym represents. After TEAMS we went to TAAS which is the Texas Assessment of Applied Skills (I think that’s what it stood for.) Now we administer TAKS, and not just TAKS, but TAKS-A, TAKS-M and TAKS-I which all have to do with level of achievement for the students in the special education program.
Don’t forget the bilingual tests: TELPAS and RPTE. Some students also take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. If a students is recommended for the GT program they take additional tests to determine their level of ‘giftedness’. If a student is struggling additional tests are taken to determine if the student qualifies for additional instructional support or modifications. Students in third, fifth and eighth grade must pass the reading and/or math portions of TAKS in order to be promoted to the next grade.
In high school students take the end of course exams. If a students is in the IB programme even more assessments are required. If a student is taking an AP course, additional testing is required by the Advanced Placement Board. To graduate students must pass the exit level of TAKS and take the TASP (don’t know this acronym) test to enter college. Test after test. No wonder we have low graduation rates at the high school level.
When my oldest niece was in the third grade two years she had just taken the first administration of the third grade TAKS reading test. At the third, fifth and eighth grades, students can take up to three administrations to pass the reading or math portions of TAKS. Anyway, she had recently taken the test and received commended status with the comment to me, “Aunt Kim, I am already sick of TAKS testing!” I hated to inform her that she had just crossed the threshold into the world of testing in Texas. It had only just begun. She said we take tons of practice tests in class, have tutoring, and all of our classwork is about getting ready for TAKS and she was tired of ‘…TAKS, TAKS, TAKS!” (her words although I agree with her sentiments.) I embraced her and said, “I know how you feel.” We nodded our heads in agreement and went on with our visit. My niece continues to excel on classwork and TAKS but would really like to learn more about science and more challenging topics that aren’t as strictly confined and taxing as testing for TAKS (how about that alliteration English teachers!).
A friend of mine from SAISD, Greg Rodriguez shared with us through Diigo an article about a teacher in Washington state that refused to administer the state test to his students. Subsequently the teacher was suspended without pay and written up for insubordination that found its way up to the superintendent of the school district. While I concur with his feelings and admire his tenacity to stand strong and firm in his convictions, I am not sure that I would be that strong. Anyone who knows me well knows that I do not take things lying down and have been described as a ‘nonconformist’ at times for doing things ‘my way’. As another week of TAKS testing, training, administering approaches, I wonder if I will get to the place of the aforementioned educator and take a stance against administering the TAKS. What would you do? What would it take for you to stand on your convictions and go against the status quo?
There is a fabulous book that I usually read to my students the day before testing to lighten things up. The book titled, Testing Miss Malarkey by Judy Finch. After I read it to my students, regardless of the grade level, I follow up with a PPT of test taking skills entitled, “Testing Mrs. Caise“, in honor of the book I just read them. Check it if you are ever looking for a humorous way to review test taking skills and take away some of the doldrums of TAKS preparation. And during this week, take a moment and think about Carl Chew in WA and ask yourself the question, “What would you do?”