TAKS Test Changes

An important state senator is promising to push for changes in the way public schools measure academic achievement, and changes in the way schools earn ratings based on student performance. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills -- the TAKS test -- is given at different grade levels and it measures the knowledge students accumulate over several years, and Senate Education Committee chairperson Florence Shapiro of Plano thinks test has worn out its welcome. Shapiro prefers testing students at the end of each course, instead of every three years.

"I think it has not bode us well over the years, and I think what we really need is to go back to the type of system where you do an end of course exam that directly tests the curriculum that the students are taught, closest to the time that they were taught it."

Shapiro is a former teacher, and she thinks a cumulative test like the TAKS works well in lower grades, where teaching is more general, but not so well in upper grades where courses are more specific. She wants to keep the TAKS in elementary grades, but she wants annual "end of course" tests for middle and high school students. She says this would let teachers spend less time teaching the test and more time teaching their course. This doesn't mean Shapiro is opposed to standardized testing.

"Standardized testing is what we do always, and we never will change that, we must do that. And assessments we must do always, to be able to see the growth of the child and to see their progress."

Shapiro says it's also time to change the way schools are rated based on student performance. She says accountability is important, but something is wrong with a system that allows schools with only 25 percent of their students passing to be rated as "Acceptable".

"We are dumbing down the system in my opinion and I don't think that's what anybody in the state of Texas wants. We almost look at the lowest common denominator and we say OK, 25 percent is acceptable because that's really all we can do, and I am violently opposed to that. I think we need to set high standards."

Senator Florence Shapiro says she will use her position as chair of the Education Committee to push for these changes when the legislative session begins next month. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.