Sunday, March 04, 2007

Attacking TAKS

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, have filed legislation which will replace the state-mandated TAKS test with end-of-course tests in public high schools. If passed, the bill (SB 1031; HB 2236) will go into effect starting with the '09-'10 school year. To graduate, students entering ninth grade that year would have to accumulate 840 points from twelve tests covering these core subjects: English I, English II, English III; Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II; Biology, Chemistry, and Physics; and World Geography, World History, and U. S. History. Each test would also count 15 percent of a student's grade in the course.

Other provisions of the bill include a requirement that the exams measure “annual improvement in student achievement.” While details are not yet available, this assessment would probably involve comparing one year’s class with the previous year’s class, rather than assessing individual student progress. In addition, eighth grade students would take a college readiness diagnostic test, followed by the PSAT in their sophomore year, again for diagnostic purposes. These mandatory tests would be paid for by the state, along with the SAT or ACT, which would be offered to students in their junior year, but would not be required.

Senator Shapiro’s bill contains much to support. End-of-course tests make sense for high school students, and counting the tests as part of semester grades gives students added incentive to do their best. More important, teachers might feel less pressured to spend instructional time on test prep and drill, which many feel is dumbing down the curriculum.

Still, questions arise about the costs involved. TAKS, only three years old, cost millions to develop, field test, and benchmark. If TAKS is inadequate, who is accountable for that waste of tax dollars? After all, we previously had end-of-course state exams in many high school courses, but TAKS replaced them. Which companies stand to gain from new test development? What connections, if any, do these companies have with state legislators?

Perhaps the most fundamental question, however, is this: When will legislators stop jumping from one new idea to another and stick to a course of action long enough for it to be implemented?

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