A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Thursday, December 28, 2006

You can't fool the TAKS-man

What happens when a student doesn't pass the TAKS test, which is required for graduation in Texas?

They keep trying.
TAKS troubles kept more than 400 Austin seniors from donning a cap and gown in May.

Students must pass tests in math, social studies, science and language arts to graduate. They have at least five chances to take the test before graduation and an unlimited number after the graduation date.

By August, about 320 still hadn't passed it.

"We have an obligation to work with the kids as long as they will try to work with us," said Ken Karrer, LBJ's academic director, who supervises the Northeast Austin campus' TAKS remediation efforts.

Exit-level tests are designed to measure basic knowledge and skills to ensure that students are prepared for college and career opportunities. Most states that offer such exams have pass rates ranging from about 70 percent to 90 percent; Texas' rate is 91 percent.

Remedial services for students who fail the exams are among the largest hidden costs of state exit exams and can account for nearly 30 percent of a district's exit exam expenses, according to the Center on Education Policy in Washington. Many of the costs go toward students with limited English proficiency, academically at-risk students and students with special needs. Most of the added expenses involves school personnel.

This issue dovetails nicely with my previous post about kids obtaining credit for failed classes through completing packets created by private companies. We've got two sides to the same coin here: in one system, it doesn't matter what the students know, as long as they get the credit; in the other system, it doesn't matter really what credits a student has if he/she can't demonstrate the knowledge on a test.

Now, I'm not that familiar with the TAKS, although I know that President Bush likes to tout ideas like TAKS as an example of why he is an "education president."

Okay, now that we've all collectively shuddered, I have a few questions:
1. What happens to schools that have significant numbers of their students fail the TAKS?
2. Are there exemptions for special-education students or other special cases?
3. Have there been any lawsuits by students who have good grades but who failed the TAKS?
4. Do students who fail to graduate due to their scores on the TAKS count as drop-outs?

Any answers would be greatly appreciated, and will be offered as guest-blog posts. Because I really do want to know.


At 12/28/06, 10:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good moring, Ms. Cornelius:

TAKS....arghhhh! I will try to answer some of your questions and maybe other teachers from the Lone Star State can weigh in.

In my humble opinion, we 'teach' to the test so that AYP reflects progress. With NCLB we must show gains or our school receives a poor rating. As a Social Studies teacher, I can't deviate from the "script" for US History since it is tested in eighth grade. It is purely rote learning and there is not much time for creative thinking... it is push, push, push! Once April passes, students do not want to be in class and it is a challenge to motivate them.

Question 2 is covered by the state. If it is determined in a child's ARD/IEP that they cannot take the TAKS, there is the SDAA (State Developed Alternative Assessment). Students are given levels they must achieve in order to show progress. If the student is unable to meet the criteria of the SDAA, there is the LDAA (Locally Developed Alternative Assessment). The students in our Life Strides unit take these tests. NO student is left out of the testing process but accomodations are made.

Here in the Alamo City, there was a story recently of someone FINALLY passing the math part of the TAKS test so she could get her diploma. I think it was after 5 years... not really sure.

Students have filed lawsuits to NOT take the test because they felt it was a poor reflection them. These are students in the top 1% of their classes and can demonstrate what they have learned.

Not sure about how the dropout rate is figured but I know that numbers are skewed to a school's advantage.

Personally at times I feel like a 'high-priced' babysitter. Teaching is not what it used to be. I stay because I want to connect with the students and teach them life lessons. The academic stuff they can get from the internet. Some of these kids are raising themselves and need some sort of a role model.

Please excuse the length of this post..you touched a nerve.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

At 12/28/06, 2:59 PM, Anonymous Mike said...

Butterfly Angel covered much of your query, but perhaps I can add a few more things. TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) test scores, drop out rates and a variety of other criteria are tied to the overall state school evaluation system which is administered by the TEA (Texas Education Agency). In Texas, we've built up a massive state education bureaucracy that is the envy of any other state that wants a huge, unweildy, wasteful, unnecessary, ridiculously expensive and all powerful bureaucracy, not unlike the old Soviet Union in reach and power. School and district ratings such as "acceptable," "recognized," and "exemplary" are coveted and sought after and have, sadly, become the primary criteria by which schools, districts superintendents, principals, even teachers are judged. Schools or districts recelving less than an acceptable rating for more than a year or two could find themselves being taken over by the state. Cheating, deception and fancy paperwork are common. The most horrifying words in the English language remain "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

It is so that students have many opportunities to pass the TAKS, and TAKS proponents go out of their way to claim that the tests are actually quite easy. Of course, unless one buys the idea that the worth of schools and teachers and student knowledge can only be ascertained through a single state mandated test (or in our case, several tests), the level of difficulty of a given test is beside the point. But the bureaucracy mandates tests throughout elementary school, middle school and high school. There is not a single test that must be taken in high school, but kids must take the tests throughout their school careers. Yes, elementary kiddies are exposed to high stakes testing as well!

In most school districts, a huge amount of time is devoted to directly teaching to the test. The educrats put forth the proposition that if teachers are teaching correctly, teaching the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills--essentially state mandates standards for each and every course taught in the state. There are a great many for each discipline and each grade), there is no need to teach to the TAKS tests, but this is, to put it kindly, bullpucky.

I teach English, and in order to pass the TAKS, students must learn and correctly apply, in very specific ways, tricks. Yes, tricks. We have, through experience, discovered which tricks work. If a student uses them, they pass. If they do not, they don't. I have had some of the brightest GT kids in the school fail simply because they chose to write well and not to play the game. At the same time, kids who could barely write their name routinely pass because they learn and apply the tricks long enough to pass. While some of the skills the test demands do actually translate to life and the real English curriculum, most do not and I end up telling my students to learn and apply the tricks only for the purposes of TAKS and never to write that way in the real world. I also teach remedial TAKS classes for seniors who have thus far failed. The final or "exit level" tests are taken during the junior year. They learn the tricks, they pass.

So what does a TAKS score tell us about a student's body of knowledge? Intellect? Academic potential? Zip. Oh, one may discover correlations between high TAKS scores and college graduation rates, but correlation only indicates that two trends correspond or appear to be going in the same direction. Most people die in bed, but we should not conclude the mattresses are lethal.

So, how much does all this cost? In one recent year, we literally spent fully 1/3 of the school year testing or teaching to the test, counting benchmark tests (sort of pre tests to help our administrators guess how kids might do on the TAKS), TAKS drills, a month or more of nothing but TAKS exercises, and TAKS testing itself. We've spent a bit less time since, but it is a huge investment in time and money for, in my humble opinion, nothing.

The tests are given at specified times throughout the year, so that every child in a given grade in every school in Texas will be taking the 10th grade English test on a specific date, etc. Test security would put the NSA to shame. So crazed are the bureaucrats about maintaining the validity and integrity of the tests (fool's errand, that) that teachers must swear and sign oaths and confidentiality agreements, with forfeit of their jobs and careers, first born male children, raped cattle, stampeded women folk (did I get that mixed up?) and more should they do so much as talk about test questions (I'm not kidding).

I am aware of a number of smart kids who have refused to take the TAKS, and have thereby been denied a diploma. Most have been accepted at colleges and have done, predictably, well. I am not aware of specific lawsuits challenging the validity of the TAKS itself. The political pendulum has not yet swung against TAKS, but when it does, as such things inevitably do, there will be much blood on the sand. I'm aware of very few teachers who have any respect for the test or anything or anyone relating to it, while principals and those above them tend to hold their tongues. Teachers who blindly parrot the party line on the wonder that is the TAKS tend to be seen as idiots at best and collaborators at worst. State education bureaucrats are notorious hereabouts for having no sense of humor of which they are aware. They are also very, very touchy about this topic.

But at least, in the Lone Star State, we have accountability! I have no doubt that George Bush had a sincere desire to be helpful to the kids, but this is what happens when one tries to impose a business model on an endeavor that has nothing at all in common with business.

At 12/28/06, 6:11 PM, Blogger The MAN Fan Club said...

I teach in the Lone Star state
TAKS-Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills

#1 The school will not get an Exemplary "bragging" status rating. Next step is Recognized and then Acceptable and then Unacceptable. Could affect home values. My school missed Exemplary by ONE student failing so there is a LOT of pressure. As teachers we can only do so much. Each crop of kids is different.

#2 Right now you have Special Ed. students exempted and they do take the SDAA and count some. Within 2 years the SDAA is probably going away and ALL but 1% take the state test. That 1% is reserved for the severely placed SpEd students: MR, Traumatic Brain injury, Downes, etc. We'll have 8th graders with LOW IQ's who read on a 1st grade level expected to take the 8th grade tests.

#3 You have to be careful. If I am passing a kid in Math and giving him high marks on his report cards he better be able to pass the test. IFFY situation here. I'm sure someone has been sued. DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT!

#4 I think they do count as dropouts.

My saying is of the No Child Left Behind, "then the bus aint going anywhere then."

At 12/28/06, 6:39 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Mmm-hmmm. Sounds like fun!

So do y'all mind if I put your responses into a post? Attributed?

At 12/28/06, 8:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the saddest things is that we go into winter break with the idea that "real teaching" is now over for the year. The spring semester is devoted to TAKS preparation, bechmarking, profiling, Mock TAKS...... I literally cried when they moved me from 7th grade Texas History to 8th grade US History because I knew I wouldn't be able to do all the special projects that I had done before entering the world of "a TAKS tested subject". Some of our best US History teachers no longer teach it because of the stress and focus on 8th grade. Next year 8th graders have to pass both TAKS Reading and Math tests in order to be promoted to 9th grade. I think it's gonna be interesting.

At 12/28/06, 9:04 PM, Blogger Mister Teacher said...

Howdy! Third-grade teacher here, from the Lone Star State -- more commonly referred to as the grade where the screws are first applied. Third grade is the very first time kids are subjected to the TAKS. They have to take a reading test and a math test. Both count towards the school's AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress), but failing the reading test is what can prohibit the kids from passing on to the fourth-grade.
Anyway, that might not really answer your question, but since most of the earlier posts seem to address high school, I thought I'd weigh in for the younger kids.
The number of kids who pass and fail DO affect a school's rating (and in elementary school, it's often the fifth-grade science test that brings the whole school down). There was a pretty interesting article in today's Dallas Morning News regarding schools who missed a better rating by one child. You'll have to cut and paste this in. http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/122806dnmetappeals.3205b2a.html

As to question number two, the special ed teacher at my school has been talking about how special ed kids are going to be required to take grade level TAKS starting next year. Which is completely and utterly ridiculous. Some of these kids will never be able to read at a first grade level, much less at a third-grade level, eighth grade level, or high school level.

At 12/28/06, 9:13 PM, Anonymous Mike said...

I don't believe that TAKS pass/fail status has anything to do with the drop out stats as they are under separate criteria, commonly having much more to do with funding that academic achievement. In Texas, "ass in the class" is very important as schools are funded primarily on enrollment. Little Johnny brings in X number of dollars, which vanish if Johnny vanishes. Therefore issues such as whether a child actually lives within the geographical boundaries of the district in which they attend school matter a great deal, and the state demands certified attendence figures be submitted at mandated intervals throughout the school year. We actually have to get student signatures and sign to indicate that they're genuine.

The 1% exemption issue for special ed kids is of great concern to us here. My district has a special ed population that hovers around 15%, in part because we have a well-deserved reputation for dealing with them well. To be sure, not all of these kids are severely handicapped in some significant way, but even a single percent of a school population failing TAKS can have a seriously damaging effect on a school's state rankings.

It's rather like the NCLB requirement that every kid in America eventually function on grade level. They may not have to be just like Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average, but everyone will have to be at least average.

And you may use anything I've posted as you've suggested. Thanks!

At 12/28/06, 10:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am back... all of the responses ar right on the mark. Today I was notified that I will be helping with the TAKS Countdown (3 weeks prior to the April test.) This means I will be away from my 'angels' and they will have to work with a substitute. My students are still going to be responsible for the content since they take benchmark exams @ the end of the grading cycle. If they do poorly, I will be held responsible even though I will miss one-third of class instruction. Go figure.

You have my permission to use my rantings as you see fit. I know that you will do a bang-up job of presenting our thoughts.

At 12/29/06, 7:43 AM, Blogger Mike in Texas said...

The lie that is NCLB was developed and refined right here in Texas. Beginning as a test called the TAAS, politicians and conservatives have used it as justification to try to privatize the schools.

The current darling ideas are vouchers, the 65% rule. The vouchers would be turned over to any providing a private education, including parents who are homeschooling, with no stipulations they prove they are doing an adequate job of educating their children.

3rd graders who do not pass their Reading TAKS tests can be retained, and 5th graders who don't pass Math or Reading can be retained.

1. Schools in this situation can be taken over by the state. However, the Republican controlled state congress slipped a doozy into the law; you are judged by this year's standard and next year's, so it is possible to have met the state standards and still be labeled a failing school.

2. There are exceptions but they are being taken away. In the future special ed. students will be expected to take grade level test and will be counted against the school's score. I believe you may get a 1% exemption as someone mentioned, but in my school that equates to the kids who are severely mentally handicapped.

3. I don't know of any lawsuits by students in that situation but I wouldn't be surprised. The tests are so poorly designed (by committee) that I could see this happening. There have been recent stories about tests having no answer choices correct or more than one answer choice correct.

4. No, but many of them are shuffled off to GED programs.

At 12/29/06, 9:54 AM, Blogger The MAN Fan Club said...

Mike is right, there is great importance put on taking attendance accurately, everyday, between a 15 minute span.

I also think the high school student may just get a certificate of attendance if he/she can't pass the exit TAKS exam.

Not sure I want attributed.

At 12/29/06, 7:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the other posts but would like add to qustion #2...for SPED students, the state is implementing TAKS-I which is to replace LDAA (locally developed alternative assessment) and SDAA (state developed alternative assessment). I teach 8th grade science, this is the 1st year the science TAKS will count towards our accuntability ratings. Of my SPED students, I only have one taking LDAA...all the others will take TAKS-I. TAKS-I is the regular grade level TAKS minus the field questions that don't count against school scores anyways. The majority of my SPED students have reading levels below 5th grade, yet they are expected to take the 8th grade test. Also, if the ARD committee decide for the student to take LDAA or SDAA, regardless the score the student makes, that student is scored as fail against the campus rating.

Also, sorry for the rambling comment...TAKS really burns me up! :)

At 12/29/06, 9:18 PM, Blogger The Science Goddess said...

420? That's nothin'. We have over 40,000 students here (state wide...I know the TX number is just Austin) who are in danger of not graduating due to not passing the state test.

At 5/19/11, 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this is years later, so you may never see this. However, dropout rates are computed in a rather funny way here. If a kid spends 4 years in 8th grade, but gets through high school (tests & all) in 4, he's counted as graduating. Or if he spent 2 years in first, 2 in 2nd, etc.

But HEAVEN FORBID that a kid spend a day longer than 4 years in high school! One of my kids was SPED, but passed all tests on teh 1st try, 2 of them with superior ratings. However, because we chose to keep in him school an extra year for social development and to help take the stress of in one of his harder subjects, he's counted in the system as a "dropout", even though he graduated!

Dropout rates should reflect actual dropouts, but they don't. Additionally, if a kid transfers to a school elsewhere, which fails to send for his records, or the sending school doesn't click the right code on their records, that kid is also counted as a dropout, even if he finishes in 3 years or takes the GED before graduating.

Oh, about SPED kids taking those tests. We were told every year in the big city he'd be taking tests with his class. The only time he took any at all was when they could NOT exempt him, and remember, this was a kid who tested superior in two subjects, but had social issues due to autism.


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