Texas Assessment of Academic Skills

Article excerpt

No issue is more controversial in U.S. education than mandatory statewide or nation-wide testing (Fordham Report, 1998). Many people believe it is an essential ingredient of reform while others feel it is a menace and a distraction to quality teaching and learning.

To better understand the issues that the Bush Administration will support, one must first be familiar with the history George W. Bush brings to the presidency. The accountability system in Texas is one of the nation's toughest, according to Education Weekly (Brooks, 1999). The system began under Governor Ann Richards. Although President Bush did not create the system his administration has expanded and increased the expectations of students as well as school districts and teachers.

For the past decade, as required by state statute, Texas has assessed minimum basic skills in reading, mathematics, and writing, first with the Texas Assessment of Basic Skills (TABS) tests and then with the Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills (TEAMS) examinations. Changes in state law required the implementation of a new criterionreferenced program. This changed occurred at the end of 1990 and the concept of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, or TAAS tests was born. (TEA, 2001)

Each year the 7,053 public schools and 1,042 school districts are ranked based largely on scores from the TAAS (TEA, 2001). The primary purpose of the state student assessment program is to provide an accurate measure of student achievement in the areas of reading, writing, mathematics, social studies, and science. The scores on these tests are the backbone of the Texas Education Agency's accountability system. This system rates schools as exemplary, recognized, acceptable, or low performing. Bonuses, pay raises, cash incentives, and public pressure are used to motivate administrators and teachers to teach the skills necessary for success on the tests.

Several shifts in philosophy have occurred since the dawn of the Texas testing program and several new assessments have been developed as a result of legislative requirements or actions by the State Board of Education (SBOE). Additionally the state has stipulated that end-of-course tests be administered in selected high school courses. Currently students must take an exit level test and those not meeting the minimum expectations must retake those sections of the assessment instrument on which they had not performed satisfactorily. Students cannot receive a diploma until they have passed this exit level assessment.

Even with a decade of statewide testing, all is not well. "Schools in Texas hold distinction for one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation coupled with one of the lowest ratings in the nation for college preparation," according to a report written by education research analyst Chris Patterson. Furthermore. As TAAS scores continue to rise, the percentage of Texas students who require remediation in college has grown 16 percent. Additionally, the SAT scores of students in Texas remain below the national average.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) claims that the focus on TAAS is getting as many students as possible to achieve at a very basic level. TPPF concludes that since so much hinges on these scores promotions, hiring and firing decisions, financial incentives - school administrators are foolish if they don't

reallocate time and substantial resources from higher-achieving children whom they know will pass the test to lower-achieving children who might not. Many schools have developed specialized classes during which lower-achieving students learn skills to help them master the TAAS. These classes are mandatory and in many cases the student must give up an elective class in order to stay on track and pass the TAAS.

With the ramifications of doing poorly on these tests, school districts use a wide variety of motivational techniques to encourage students to do their best during test day. …