Wednesday, October 22, 2008

This Is a Good Start; Now, Let's Take the Next Step

Longtime readers of this blog know that I'm no fan of the TAKS test (that's the standardized test given to public school kids here in Texas). As I've said on many occasions (enter "TAKS" into the search box to find my other posts on the subject), the test is fine when used as an assessment (which is what the A in TAKS stands for), but it should be given at the beginning of the year, not the end, and it shouldn't be tied to promotion or graduation. And while the use of TAKS as a high school exit test is about to be phased out, it is still linked to promotion in the third, fifth and eighth grades. But a proposal by a pair of state legislative committees may change that:
Texas students in certain grades would no longer have to pass the state achievement test to be promoted under a new school accountability plan unveiled Tuesday by leaders of the House and Senate education committees.

The proposal would scuttle a requirement originally championed by former Gov. George W. Bush as a way to curtail the widespread practice of social promotion – automatically passing students regardless of achievement.

In addition, the new accountability plan would base annual school performance ratings on three years of test scores rather than the most recent year, allowing school districts and campuses to make up for a bad year of results with a couple of positive years.
I couldn't agree more; a single test--especially one branded as an "assessment"--should not carry as much weight as the TAKS has since its inception. And others agree:
Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said school districts would be able to decide their own criteria for promotion of students, using test scores, grades and whatever else is considered appropriate. She said students who fail in the three grades would receive additional instruction.

"These decisions need to be made locally and not dictated by the state," Ms. Shapiro said, insisting the move would not undermine promotion standards. "We're not saying [these students] won't be held back. We're just saying the decision won't be based on one test."

[...]Len Phipps, a teacher at Cowart Elementary School in southwest Dallas, said most teachers don't like the idea of a single test determining whether a student moves up to the next grade.

"The test by itself is not enough to make the decision on whether a child should be promoted," Ms. Phipps said. "Other factors, like teacher input, need to be considered. There can also be extenuating circumstances for some children."
Some people don't favor the idea, saying that it would increase "social promotion," but the only person quoted in the story as supporting it, Sandy Kress, was also the architect of the federal No Child Left Behind act, which doesn't seem to have many fans at all at the moment; I'll take the word of teachers over that of an educrat/lobbyist/lawyer almost any day.

So it looks like the Texas Legislature is starting to understand that students (and schools) shouldn't be penalized for taking one bad test, and an average of several years' worth of tests should be the main criterion for evaluating a school. Now let's go on to the next step: Revamp the state's no pass/no play law so that it only penalizes students who have a cumulative failing average for a six-weeks period, not those who fail a single class. I've been an advocate for this since grad school, for the same reasons stated by the legislative committee for revamping the TAKS promotion standards: It doesn't provide for the student who has a bad day (as in failing an exam that is worth, say, over half the grade for the six weeks) or even a bad teacher.

(I should also note that I was surprised to see that no pass/no play had its own Wikipedia page, and more than a little annoyed to see music incorrectlly referred to as an extracurricular activity; certainly, there are extracurricular components to music, such as marching band, but fine arts are indeed a part of the curriculum.)

Does anyone think that the Lege will take me up on this idea? I'm not holding my breath...

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