Sunday, April 15, 2007

Another Way This Test is TAKS-ing to Students

The dreaded TAKS test (the state standardized testing here in Texas) is almost here; from Tuesday through Friday of the week ahead, I'll hardly be doing any teaching at all. Much as I (and the seniors who passed the test last year as juniors) will enjoy the extra sleep--it could almost be dubbed Spring Break II--it also causes this sharp, stabbing pain in my wallet area every year. (I don't even want to do the math on how much income I'll be losing this week.)

So it was quite interesting to read an opinion column on Friday by Linda Duran, a guidance counselor in a local school who points out one more drawback of the TAKS: It may actually hinder students' preparation for college and the real world:
All actions – personal, social, even governmental – have consequences. Many of these consequences are unintended and not originally foreseen. Such is the case with the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test (TAKS) actually lowering the SAT scores of our Texas students and hurting their chances of getting into prestigious college and receiving scholarships.

[...]The state puts so much importance on the TAKS test results that administrators and teachers are pressured into overemphasizing it. Students are drilled and drilled, and since the TAKS test is a power test – meaning, for one thing, it is untimed – teachers encourage students to "take as long as you need." Students take little breaks; they eat a little; they stretch; they put all their answers in the book and go back over each and every one – sometimes several times – and finally put the answers on the scan sheet. Some students will take five or six hours to take a test that at most should last about an hour or hour and a half. I'm not faulting the teachers and administrators for this approach. After all, they are only trying to help these students win at this TAKS game.

But the game is different for timed tests like the PSAT (Preliminary SAT test), which is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (that means big money, folks); the SAT; the ACT; and of course Advanced Placement tests.

And how do our Texas students do on these tests? Just OK. Recently, I have individually reviewed PSAT results with 223 sophomores and juniors who took it in October. At least half of these students didn't even finish the test. They had OK scores, but those scores could have been excellent had these students understood the concept of time management. These lower scores also hurt their chances of getting into prestigious college programs all over the country. And it makes Texas teachers look like we don't teach our children very well – which I believe to be untrue.

All of these college entrance tests have strict time limits for very good reasons. They are predictors of college success.
Despite all my gripes against the TAKS, I had never even thought of that particular angle before, but I think she's dead-on. Read the whole thing.

And in the meantime, it's encouraging to note that a state Senate panel is backing the bill that would replace the high-school-level TAKS with end-of-course exams (as discussed here). Even though this change wouldn't be phased in until 2009's freshman class, it would be great to know that, in just a few short years, the actual process of learning wouldn't grind to a screeching halt every April.

All I can say is WoW: At a Georgia zoo, the orangutans are playing video games.

This driver was no hack: A just-retired New York couple needed to move to Arizona. Being New Yorkers, they didn't own a car, and they didn't want to put their cats in the cargo hold of an airplane. So what did they do? Like all good New Yorkers, they hailed a cab for the entire 2400-mile trip. (The trip was planned in advance, and they did get a break on the fare.)

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