"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, October 29, 2007

"the TAKS Nazis we have morphed into"

When speaking truth to power falls on deaf ears, civil disobedience becomes the inheritor of moral outrage.

From the Houston Chronicle, commentary by teacher, Paula Whiteley:

TAKS has to go, and here's why. TAKS is not measuring student performance. It measures how much money yourstudents' parents have in their bank accounts. Year after year, test performance predictably peaks in affluent areas across the state. The Suburban enclaves post great test scores. Then the uUrban schools — with children whose vocabularies and experiences cannot begin to compete with children whose parents have advanced degrees and six-figure salaries — then play catch up. There will be a vast difference in test scores between children with educated parents with expansive vocabularies, and students whose parents are struggling to put food on the table and hold down menial jobs.

So, after years of unfair competition and high-stakes testing, the inner-city schools, in a word, cheat. Of course, they don't all do it, and but for the ones that do, I don't blame them a whole lot. Last year, there was a list of some about 800 possible instances of cheating in Texas. It was just the tip of the iceberg. The reason I say that is because I have had personal experiences where students have asked, "Ms. Whiteley, are you going to hold up one finger for "A," 2 two fingers for "B," etc., as we take the test, like the last teacher did?" That was many years ago. Today, there are multiple versions of the test within the same classroom.

But, don't kid yourself, with high-stakes testing costing administrative jobs in affluent and urban schools, you're naïve readers would be naive if you don'tthey didn't believe there will be cheating. From the subtle approach of a teacher whispering, "Check that answer once more," to full-fledged erasures at the campus level in a private office, cheating happens, and will continue to occur as long as TAKS remains an educational martinet.

TAKS is driving our classrooms in Texas. It is what we teach, often to the detriment of social studies and science, which are not part of the TAKS test until fifth grade. Just ask an elementary teacher in third- or fourth grade how much time is actually spent on science or social studies. Those two disciplines go by the wayside in order to have more reinforcement of math and reading, to shore up those vocabularies that haven't been nurtured at home. Minutes earmarked for social studies are actually used to drill math skills that were neglected for one reason or another.

Let's use a nautical analogy: Imagine that you havethere are twenty 20 students. They are either safely on the deck of the TAKS ship, with no danger of failing, or they are flailing in the water, reading in the third grade onat a kindergarten level. (Don't gasp — every teacher in Texas has Children Left Behind that don't read on grade level. They're not widgets, they're kids, and despite all of Berkeley'ssome research, they develop at different rates.)

There are a finite amount of minutes in the classroom. Five students are very bright and need challenging and extensions. Six students, however, do not read anywhere near grade level and will definitely not pass TAKS without daily intervention. A lack of attention to the flailers in the water might cost the school's principal a job. Those are our choices in Texas. Now, which do you think a teacher would choose?

There are established tests that measure a child's yearly progress to hold teachers accountable. For instance, student growth from a first-grade to a third-grade performance level can easily be measured. TAKS won't measure that growth, however. All the teacher and district know is that the student, who made two years' gain in one, failed third-grade TAKS.

We are jumping through flaming hoops in Texas, losing good teachers. Most now leave teaching after less than five years. Texas teachers are sick to death of this test being crammed down our throats. There's a better way than the TAKS Nazis we have morphed into. It's time to draw a line in the educational sand and take our state back.

Whiteley has been a teacher for more than 30 years and currently is a bilingual third-grade teacher at Rosehill Elementary in Tomball. Her Web site on teaching and education can be found at noteacherleftinsane.com.


  1. Anonymous11:50 AM

    TAKS is changing the way teachers teach and ruining any enthusiasm students have for learning. First graders are being trained to respond in TAKS format. How sad is that? Yes, let's get rid of TAKS! I wish politicians would catch on to your point that students' scores are directly related to their parents' incomes and educational levels.

  2. I think that there does have to be testing, but not like this. As a Texas Teacher in a low socio-economic area, I see first hand how this test is tearing our district apart and burning out teachers left and right. No one wants to be a failure with the kids, and yet we are constantly put into a position where we are set up to fail. You know, it would be different if every subject were tested yearly and that there were a pre and post test to measure growth, but all this test does is set up a perpetual game of catch up. Each year a different subject is tested along with Math and Reading. In Elementary what this means is that Reading and Math have become the only subjects taught in K-3, writing is added in 4th and 5th grade Science (which is a cumulative test for grades k-5) Basically, the 4th grade teachers teach writing all year long because every math and reading are taught in isolation, and so the very first time a child learns to write essays is in 4th grade, not to mention that since only personal narrative is the only topic tested, elementary students only learn personal narative. In 5th grade the students get a crash course in science over 49 testable TEKS that should have been taught during K-4, but were dropped in lieu of Reading, Math and Writing. Out of the 100 students in a grade level at my school, about half are sent to after school tutoring and saturday TAKS camps to try to play catch up.

    The reason why this test is such a bear is because of the lack of support by TEA. Teachers are not trained to learn what how to interpret the texas TEKs because quite frankly I don't even think they know what how to interpret them. Each year we are sent to inservices reviewing release tests trying discovering all the new ways the TEKS are tested, trying to find a pattern or a way to beat the test (a strategy to help the kids)

    So why arent we just upfront about what we want the kids to learn? Why arent their comprehensive explanations as to what is expected instead of trying to guess? Why arent we supplied with data that shows where our kids are low and suggestions from the state on how to help them instead of each district being placed in a sink or swim situation? Lots of book companies and TAKS practice programs trying to guess and take the money... No one really out to help the kids to meet these standards.