Monday, April 30, 2007

Texas Schoolchildren Told to "Scream as Loud As You Can"

Down in the heart of non-stop testing, in the belly of the bubble sheets, where the national testing hysteria first freaked out, etc., there is an edu-business move afoot to get rid of the high school TAKS exit exams in order to create a system even more driven by more high-stakes tests in grades 9, 10, and 11.

Yesterday the Waco Tribune-Herald ran this op-ed on the issue:

Sunday, April 29, 2007

State-mandated testing finally was over at one elementary school I know. Over the intercom, the principal asked the students to stand.

What? Had the Texas Legislature decided to order students to pledge allegiance to TAKS, as it requires of the Texas and U.S. flags?

Maybe this was a state-mandated benediction (like that state-mandated silent moment): “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the commissioner of education . . . Amen.”

What was the state ordering the children to do now?

“For the next 15 seconds,” the principal told the children, “I want you to scream as loud as you can.”

To my knowledge, this was neither a state nor a district mandate.

(If it were, a test would have followed: “In 150 words, tell us what you thought while screaming.” Teachers would be required to fill out triplicate forms noting how many “TAKS elements” were met.)

No, the principal was just letting the children vent. Did you hear them?

You wonder. You wonder if anyone hears amid the din in Austin, larynxes straining for more “school accountability.” (Later, the larynxes will take to the campaign trail and tout “local control.”)

In fact — and it has taken forever — but I think someone is listening.

State Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, has authored a bill to do a complete review of Texas’ school accountability system. It would set up a Select Committee on Public School Accountability. It would have hearings throughout the state.

The bill, which is languishing in the House Education Committee, needs a floor hearing, just as those directly affected by state school policies need to be heard.

If the statewide review happens, I hope parents, teachers and students scream real loud.

One thing the committee should quantify for Texans is how much instructional time is lost to testing, not just state-mandated exams but also district “benchmark” tests to see if teachers are keeping up with the often-brutal pace the state sets for them.

But there’s so much more to examine.

Texans have been given a false choice for years: Either accept top-down, state-mandated standardization with an overemphasis on testing, or accept inferior schools. That is utter baloney. The opposite is the result. Overemphasis on standardization brings a lot of achievers down to what should be considered an unacceptable mean.

Overemphasis on TAKS puts a faceless someone in Austin in absolute control of what teachers teach. Some teachers find themselves essentially working off a script to meet each “TAKS objective.”

Texas lawmakers are acknowledging one folly of TAKS right now with a bill that would abolish the state high school exit test in favor of a battery of end-of-course tests.

It has never made any sense for the state to pin graduation on advanced concepts — and that’s what TAKS is in some areas — that a student might not have studied for two years.

Then again, with end-of-course exams we would have more state-mandated testing and more micromanagement from Austin, more guessing games for teachers about “what’s on the test?” (Sadly, that’s become the essence of education in the age of “accountability,” and that’s not right.)

The only problem I see with the review that is proposed for Texas’ accountability system is that the select committee would have too many of the usual suspects, the same lawmakers — too tied to their own creation and their own rhetoric, too divorced from the classroom, too wed to the TV cameras. The committee would have some educators. That’s good. It would have some business leaders.

Some or all of these might be parents of children in public schools. That would be good. But the bill, HB 3425, specifically calls for only one — one — parent, otherwise.

If lawmakers are really interested in getting it right, the committee would have one parent for each policy maker or professional, and it would have students as well. I’ve heard eloquent appeals from students to stop taking so much learning time away for testing, and to stop whittling education down to the nubs of what a few nameless educrats can pronounce as “essential.”

Please, lawmakers. Ask. Ask students. Ask parents. Then stand back, because it’s going to get noisy.

1 comment:

  1. Texas has been testing for a long time. The test has been called TASS, TABS and TAKS. They even had TECAT and tested the teachers. Now that was a great experience! Changing only the high school exit tests won't help those elementary kids scream less. I agree that parents, students, and teachers need to be involved with the decision making process.

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