Eye on Education: Testing the Tests

By: Ryan Loyd Email
By: Ryan Loyd Email

SHERMAN, Tex. -- Classrooms are bustling with activity. Students are thinking about their upcoming summer vacations. But just a few weeks ago, they were busy thinking about tests.

The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) is one of the standardized tests students must face. For elementary school-aged children, the test means graduating to the next grade level. For high school students, the stakes are even higher and determine whether a student walks the stage at graduation time.

The pressure isn't only intense for students. Teachers also feel that their reputation is based on how their students perform. Karla Skaggs, an elementary school teacher at Hyde Park Elementary in Denison, says, "I understand there is a need for a test... I want them to do their best."

Standardized tests have long been a way for districts to measure what students know. They haven't always been popular. But because of growing concerns and a momentum of opinions to change the course of testing, TAKS testing will now be phased out until 2011. At that time, high school students will take end-of-course exams instead of TAKS.

Texas lawmakers decided to make a change when they met for the 80th Legislative Session. District 62 Representative Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) helped bring this legislation to the forefront, after speaking with many parents, school leaders, and students about the pressure that standardized testing places on students.

"We have to have standards," he said. "But when it becomes just about the test, it changes what school is all about."

This is an historic move, and will most likely affect how your children are taught. Many parents, like Sherman resident Robert Aranson, believe teachers teach based on the test. But Aranson thinks by the time his 4th grader gets to high school, she'll be under much less pressure to perform well. Instead, he says, she'll flourish without the stress. "It will be a nice change," Aranson said.

Denison ISD school leaders are all for the change. Testing coordinator Robert Mears says, "You have to see [how] our kids are doing." But Mears also says schools cannot be compared to one another. Each district needs to be measured by itself. "You have to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges."

Mears is convinced, along with Rep. Phillips, that the new way of testing will put the focus back on teaching students, rather than teaching to a test.

"If we're doing what we're supposed to be doing from day one, we shouldn't have to stop to teach to a test," Mears said. Rep. Phillips added, "People aren't concerned about accountability. It's just the focus of a test.

"It's not the only mark of what a student learns in the classroom," he said.

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