Isn’t the TAKS Test dead? Not yet — zombie like, it still prowls the nightmares of older students working to get a Texas diploma. Test review and practice in this post
You can do it; and if you’ve been out of class for a while, or if you just want to boost your score, here’s a review, and a few lines down here is a link to a place to take an on-line practice test which you can get scored. The practice test questions should be mostly phased out by now, but the topics will remain.
It’s spring, and a young person’s fancy and earnest wishes turn to acing these tests to get a high school diploma.
Here’s a generalized, much truncated list of things high school juniors need to know, according to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). This is a list from which the TAKS test questions will be drawn.
Earlier posts provided the definitions of each of these terms and phrases — check those out in your study, too.
Teachers who watch this may cry as they watch America’s future slip away into the Tide of Mediocrity™ we were warned about, which NCLB mistook for high water. Turn it up so you can hear the full sound effects. That’s the level of mediocrity rising as the “official” fiddles.
W. Edwards Deming researched and wrote a lot about organization managers who don’t really have a clue what is going on in their organizations, and who lack tools to measure employee work, because they lack an understanding of just what products are, what the resources are that are required to make the desirable product, and how to processes that make those products work, or could work better.
That’s education, today.
Should teachers be “held accountable?” Depends. Effective organizations understand that accountability is the flip-side of the coin of authority. Anyone accountable must have the authority to change the things that affect product, for which that person is “held accountable.” Texas schools lose up to 45 days a year to testing — that may drop as the TAKS test is phased out, but it won’t drop enough. 45 days is, effectively 25% of the school year. If time-on-task is important to education as Checker Finn used to badger us at the Department of Education, then testing is sucking valuable resources from education, way above and beyond any benefits testing may offer.
Today, Texas Governor Rick Perry has proposed laws sitting on his desk that would greatly pare back unnecessary testing. A coalition of businessmen (no women I can discern) with a deceptively-named organization urges Perry to veto the bills, because, they claim, rigor in education can only be demonstrated by a tsunami of tests.
What’s that, you ask? Where is the person concerned about the student? She’s the woman with the leaky classroom, who is being shown the door.
Why is it those with authority to change things for the better in Texas schools, and many other school systems throughout the U.S., are not being held accountable? If they won’t use their authority to make things better, why not give that authority to the teachers?
Check out McLeod’s blog — good comments on his video there.
Discussion: Gladwell appears to confirm, for testing results, the old aphorism attributed to Henry Ford: “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re right.” Gladwell seems to be saying that the student’s view of his or her abilities at the moment the test starts rules in a significant way how the student performs — worse, for teachers, it’s the student’s unconscious view of his or her abilities. As a final shot in class, I have often had students predict their performance on state tests. I have them write what they think they will scores. Then I ask them to predict what they would have scored, had they applied themselves seriously to study of history — and of course, almost always the students have a fit of honesty and predict their scores would have been higher. Then I ask them to pretend they had studied, and cross out the lower predicted score and replace it with the higher predicted score. At the schools where I’ve taught, we do not administer the tests to our own students, and such exercises are prohibited on the day of the test. Too bad, you think?
Another exercise I’ve found useful for boosting scores is to give the students one class period, just over an hour, to take the entire day-long TAKS social studies test, in the on-line version offered by the Texas Education Agency. Originally I wanted students to get scared about what they didn’t know, and to get attuned to the questions they had no clue about so they’d pick it up in class. What I discovered was that, in an hour, clearly with the pressure off (we weren’t taking it all that seriously, after all, allowing just an hour), students perform better than they expected. So I ask them to pass a judgment on how difficult the test is, and what they should be scoring — almost unanimously they say they find the test not too difficult on the whole, and definitely conquerable by them.
What else could we do with students, if we knew how to prime them for tests, or for writing papers, or for any other piece of performance on which they would be graded?
With one exception, my administrators in Dallas ISD have been wholly inuninterested in such ideas, and such results — there is no checkbox on the teacher evaluation form for using online learning tools to advance test scores, and administrators do not regard that as teaching. The one exception was Dorothy Gomez, our principal for two years, who had what I regarded as a bad habit of getting on the intercom almost every morning to cheer on students for learning what they would be tested on. My post-test surveys of students showed those pep talks had been taken to heart, and we got much better performance out of lower-performing groups and entire classes during Gomez’s tenure (she has since left the district).
Also, if psychological tricks can significantly affect test scores, surely that invalidates the idea that we can use any test score to evaluate teacher effectiveness, unless immediate testing results is all we want teachers to achieve. Gladwell said in this clip:
To me that completely undermines this notion, this naive notion that many educators have that you can reduce someone’s intelligence to a score on a test. You can’t.
I get e-mail, this time from the Texas Freedom Network:
The State Board of Education meeting is next week, and we need YOU to make a difference.
“Am I a religious fanatic? Absolutely. You’d have to be to do what I do.”
– State Board of Education member Don McLeroy
Don't White Out Our History! - Texas Freedom Network
Is this who you want to decide what Texas schoolchildren learn? Or would you rather entrust that task to someone who believes public education is a “tool of perversion,” as board member Cynthia Dunbar believes? Or maybe any one of the board members who believe the separation of church and state is a myth?
If this is not what you want for Texas children, NOW is the critical time to take a stand.
The controversial social studies curriculum process is coming to an end. Public testimony will be heard at the State Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, May 19, and we expect a vote on these standards to take place the following day. We need you to stand up to the State Board of Education by attending our rally on Wednesday, May 19. Or testifying in front of the board. Or both!
Also on Wednesday, the State Board of Education will hear public testimony on the social studies curriculum standards. Since you are already planning to be at the William B. Travis building for the rally, you can also sign up to testify! Read below for more information on registering to testify with the Texas Education Agency. (Testimony will begin in the morning and likely stretch into the evening — so if you wish to testify, be prepared for a long day.)
We look forward to seeing you next week. If you have any questions, e-mail Judie or call us at 512-322-0545.
Spread the word; friends don't allow friends to repeat history.
What? The Texas State Board of Education is doing such a shoddy job of writing social studies standards that they don’t even name the current president of the U.S.?
It’s a cautionary tale of overprescribing, and of looking at everything as if it has some ulterior motive. But is there any rational reason why the SBOE refuses to utter the name “Obama?”
Who is this man? Texas social studies standards let his identity remain a mystery, despite the historical significance of his election.
SBOE should stop gutting social studies standards and vote to simply accept the updates provided by teachers, historians, economists and geographers. The process is out of control, embarrassing to Texas, and damaging to education.
TSTA President Rita Haecker created a stir among legislators today when she testified, at a hearing hosted by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, that the State Board of Education, in its recent rewrite of social studies curriculum standards, had refused to name President Barack Obama.
That bit of news seemed to catch several lawmakers by surprise. They already knew that the right-wing bloc on the board had attempted to rewrite history. But to go so far as to omit the name of the historic, first African American president of the United States seemed preposterous, even by conservative leader Don (the Earth is 5,000 years old) McLeroy’s standards.
Haecker was correct. Barack Obama’s name, so far, has not been included in the history curriculum standards on which the SBOE is scheduled to take a final vote next month. The standards do note the “election of first black president” as a significant event of 2008, but they don’t say who that black president is.
Haecker urged legislators to make changes, if necessary, to the curriculum setting process to protect educator input and ensure that “scholarly, academic research and findings aren’t dismissed or diminished at the whim of a board member’s own political or religious view of the world.”
State Education Commissioner Robert Scott accepted the caucus’ invitation to voluntarily testify on the curriculum adoption process. He said his and the Texas Education Agency’s role was mostly in technical support of the SBOE.
Board Chairwoman Gail Lowe of Lampasas, who also had been invited, declined to attend, even though the caucus had offered to pay her travel expenses.
Predictably, Lowe was skewered for her failure to show up by the mostly Democratic legislators who attended the caucus hearing. Lowe must have figured it was better to be skewered in absentia than in person.
You can read Rita Haecker’s prepared testimony here:
Pulitzer Prize-winner Tom Toles in the Washington Post, March 19, 2010
It’s pretty embarrassing when the State Board of Education’s actions leave Texas open to jokes about whether Texans remember the Alamo. Remembering the Alamo is as much a Texas monument or icon as anything else — maybe moreso.
Tom Toles demonstrates why Texas should be embarrassed by the Texas State Board of Education’s work on social studies standards.
Spread the word; friends don't allow friends to repeat history.
(This issue has moved a bit since I first drafted this post — watch for updates.)
Ain’t it the way?
46 of the 50 states agreed to work for common education standards through a project of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Texas is one of four states not agreeing. News comes from a report in the venerable Education Week (and to me directly via e-mail from Steve Schafersman at Texas Citizens for Science).
National standards for education are prohibited in the U.S. by law and tradition. Education standards traditionally have been set by each of the more than 15,000 local school districts. After the 1957 Sputnik education cleanup, and after the 1983 report of the Excellence in Education Commission, the nation has seen a drive to get at least state-wide standards, though a jealous regard for federalism still prevents national standards.
Almost all other industrialized nations have a set of national standards set by the national government, against which progress may be measured. All the industrialized nations who score higher than U.S. students in international education comparisons, have standards mandated by a national group.
So if it’s an internationally recognized way of improving education, as part of their continuing war on education, and their war on science and evolution theory, the Texas State Board of Education takes the Neanderthal stance, avoiding cooperation with the 92% of the states working to improve American education.
Texas Freedom Network’s Insider blog reports that embattled chairman Don McLeroy is working to create a panel of experts to review studies curricula. The experts he has proposed so far are all well-known cranks in academia, people who bring their axes to grind on the minds of innocent children.
This panel is a bold insult to Texas’s community of economists, historians, and other practitioners of fields of social studies, not to mention educators. A more qualified panel of experts could be assembled in the coffee break rooms of the history departments at most of Texas’s lesser known state colleges and universities.
Why does Don McLeroy hate Texas so?
I’ve been buried in teaching, grading, planning and the other affairs of the life of a teacher, and had not paid much attention to the movement on this issue (“movement” because I cannot call it “progress”). My students passed the state tests by comfortable margins, more than 90% of them; this news from SBOE makes me despair even in the face of the news that our achievements are substantial in all categories.
The panel lacks knowledge and experience in economics, geography and history. The panel is grotesquely unbalanced — at least two of the panel members remind me of Ezra Taft Benson, who was Secretary of Agriculture for Dwight Eisenhower. When he resigned from that post, he complained that Eisenhower was too cozy with communism. Barton and Quist lean well to the right of Ezra Taft Benson. Quist has complained of socialist and Marxist leanings of Reagan administration education policy and policy makers.
We stopped education in Texas high schools yesterday to test students’ proficiency with the English language. English is a difficult enough subject that it merits its own testing day, so as not to discombobulate students for the other Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests.
All controversy aside, it’s a grind.
Yours truly won the straw that got to make sure students made it to the restroom from their testing rooms, and back, without discussing the contents of the exam or sneaking off a cell-phone conversation or text message. (Yes, testing rules require that students check in phones and other devices during the test.) Classes in bathroom monitoring and cell-phone jamming cannot be far away at America’s great institutions of learning about teaching.
And you think teachers are overpaid? In Belgium the restroom attendants get tips. Same at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Not in Texas schools.
The worst part: None of us on bathroom duty knows what we did that we’re being punished for. (NB: This is a joke. Somebody had to do it, and English teachers did a lot of it, in order to keep them out of administering the tests, where they might be accused of doing something to aid cheating to raise scores — teachers who do their job well may get bathroom monitoring duty as a result . . .)
Dallas ISD and the Texas Education Agency had monitors to make sure our testing was secure enough, though I’m not certain such pains are taken to make sure the tests work. Our school is targeted for “reconstitution” if there are not dramatic improvements in TAKS scores in math and science, so the monitors hunt for errors. One wishes that wearing orange would keep the guns from being aimed at one, but one suspects it would only improve one’s targetability.
So we take it all seriously. One would hate to have been the cause of the demise of a community school for having committed some grand error in monitoring bathrooms.
It was one day of testing, but it cost us more than that. Schedules were rearranged Monday so that instead of our usual block scheduling, each student got a briefer session with her or his English teacher for last minute review and pep talk. Faculty meetings were for test administration instructions (required by regulation or law).
On test days, students are asked to leave their books and book bags at home (security for the test, mainly). What sort of education system discourages kids from carrying books <i>any day?</i>
Math, science and social studies tests come at the end of April and early May. Other tests dot the weeks until then. One teacher noted in a meeting last year that testing season marks the end of the education year, since little can be done once testing starts eating up the calendar in such huge chunks.
“Time on task,” Checker Finn used to note. When students spend time on a task, they learn it. Measure what students spend their time doing, you’ll figure out what they’re good at.
Sharrar adds a few details of Kommissar McLeroy’s war on English education, but the significant thing about the story is in the comments, I think. One poster appears to have details that are unavailable even from TEA. Partisans in the fight have details that Texas law requires to be made public in advance of the meetings, while the state officials who need to advise on the regulations and carry them out, do not.
TEA has an expensive website with full capabilities of publishing these documents within moments of their passage. As of Sunday morning, TEA’s website still shows the documents from last March. Surely Texas is not getting its value from TEA on this stuff.
“It is obvious that too many Texas public school students aren’t learning the basics with our current curriculum,” said Foundation education policy analyst Brooke Terry. “We are glad the new curriculum will emphasize grammar and writing skills.”
Texas public schools fail to adequately prepare many students for college or the workplace, she said, citing a 2006 survey by the Conference Board found that 81 percent of employers viewed recent high school graduates as “deficient in written communications” needed for letters, memos, formal reports and technical reports.
But the Texas Freedom Network, which promotes public education, religious freedom and individual liberties, called the board divisive and dysfunctional.
“College ready” generally means reading well, and reading broadly in literature. From a pedagogical standpoint, emphasizing “grammar and writing skills” over the reading that is proven to improve grammar and writing skills will be a losing battle. I hope the details of the plan will show something different when TEA ever makes them available to the taxpaying/education consuming public and English teachers. NCLB asks that such changes be backed by solid research — it will be fascinating to see whether there is any research to support the Texas plan (not that it matters; this section of NCLB has been ignored by the right wing from the moment NCLB was signed).
Prior to this week’s series of meetings, Commissar McLeroy expressed what sounds like disdain for reading in the English curriculum to the El Paso Times:
But chairman McLeroy said he would fight against some of the measures the educators want, especially the comprehension and fluency portion.
Their suggestions, he said, would have students waste time on repetitive comprehension strategies instead of actually practicing reading by taking in a rich variety of literature.
“I think that time is going to be lost because they’ll be reading some story, and they’ll just overanalyze,” he said.
If it’s good work, why is it done in secret? Remember that I spent years in right wing spin work in Washington. Here’s what I see: Either McLeroy’s administration at the state board is incredibly incompetent and can’t even get the good news right, and out on time, or there is another, darker and probably illegal agenda at work.
Below the fold, the full text of the comment from “WG1” at the Chronicle’s website.
It’s probably not so bad a pig in a poke as it might be — of course, no one had the chance to review it, so no one knows, really — but the processes used, worthy of Napoleon or Kruschev on a bad day, should give cause for concern.
Gotta think about this one for a while.
Spread the word; friends don't allow friends to repeat history.
Sane members of the Texas State Board of Education hold a slim majority over scripture-at-any-cost-in-science-books creationists.
Creationists are hammering away to defeat at least two incumbent board members to tip the balance, in classic stealth campaigns where they hide their intentions and spend oodles of money hoping to do evil by catching most voters asleep. The creationists are campaigning to beat conservative, religious Baptists, because the Baptists are “too liberal” on evolution.
District 11 includes most of Tarrant County (Fort Worth), and Parker, Ellis and Johnson counties.
Social studies is also at risk here: The stealth candidate, Barney Maddox, is making false claims against Texas social studies teachers and Texas social studies books, especially history books. The guy looks like an ill-informed nutcase, and he has a good chance of winning.
For example, the campaign flier says: “Barney Maddox believes social studies textbooks should devote more space to American presidents than Marilyn Monroe and that the vicious attack of 9-11 should be portrayed as an aggressive act by terrorists, not an American conspiracy.”
Marilyn Monroe makes no appearance in some books; presidents get 100 times more space in any book you choose. No book portrays 9-11 as an American conspiracy. The man campaigns like your standard, wild-eyed nutcase.
Call, write and e-mail everyone you know in Texas to warn them to vote against Barney Maddox, and for Pat Hardy, in the District 11 State School Board race. Your friends may not live in that district, but they should know. There are other racess with similar problems.
Early voting in this primary ends tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, is election day.
Texas education officials should be wary of efforts to insert faith-based religious beliefs into science classrooms.
* * * * *
Neither science nor evolution precludes a belief in God, but religion is not science and should not be taught in science classrooms.
Those are the opening and closing paragraphs. In between, the authors scold the Texas Education Agency for firing its science curriculum director rather than stand up for science, and cautions the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board against approving a course granting graduate degrees in creationism education.
Support for evolution and good science scoreboard so far: Over a hundred Texas biology professors, Texas Citizens for Science, Dallas Morning News, Waco Tribune . . . it’s a cinch more support will come from newspapers and scientists. I wonder whether the local chambers of commerce will catch on?
Spread the word; friends don't allow friends to repeat history.
Could I cover one block of math? Family emergency, the teacher had to go, math practice assignment was all duplicated, I didn’t have a class at that time . . .
It was a class for kids generally not on the college-bound track, certainly not on the mathematics-intensive path. In a couple of minutes three kids told me they were there because they failed the state math test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). We got into the exercise and found it featured a whole bunch of algebraic equations that would tax my memory of the rules quite well.
As I was struggling to remember how to divide and multiply exponents in fractional forms, 15 minutes into the class a woman handed in the assignment. More than 30 equations done, each one I spot checked done correctly, all the work shown — even beautifully legible handwriting.
“You have a real facility for math,” I said. “Why are you here and not in the calculus-bound class?”
She said she had failed the TAKS math portion. I told her I found that highly unlikely.
“I can’t do story problems,” she said. “I can’t figure out how they should go.”
So here was a mathematics savant, relegated to remedial math because of a difficulty translating prose into equation.
In the old days, we’d take a kid like that, let her run as far and as fast as possible in what she was good at (higher abstract mathematics concepts), and work with her on the story problem thingy. If she’s stuck where she doesn’t learn new concepts, she probably won’t make “adequate yearly progress,” either. We have taken a kid with great math talent, and turned her into a statistic of failure.
It was a flawed sample, of course. 30 kids, one savant, three others not quite as fast but with roughly the same problem: Math is easy for them, prose is not easy, especially when it has to be translated into equations. 4/30 is 13%. Do we have that many mathematically capable kids who we flunk and put into remedial math — 13% of the total?
One way to make sure no child is left behind is to stop the train completely. If the train does not move, no one gets left behind.
No mail gets delivered, no milk gets delivered, people can’t go to far off places to study, or to sell. But nobody gets “left behind.”
Did I mention that the Texas Education Agency fired their science curriculum person in direct violation of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution? Is there a correlation there?
Spread the word; friends don't allow friends to repeat history.
We've been soaking in the Bathtub for several months, long enough that some of the links we've used have gone to the Great Internet in the Sky.
If you find a dead link, please leave a comment to that post, and tell us what link has expired.
Retired teacher of law, economics, history, AP government, psychology and science. Former speechwriter, press guy and legislative aide in U.S. Senate. Former Department of Education. Former airline real estate, telecom towers, Big 6 (that old!) consultant. Lab and field research in air pollution control.
My blog, Millard Fillmore's Bathtub, is a continuing experiment to test how to use blogs to improve and speed up learning processes for students, perhaps by making some of the courses actually interesting. It is a blog for teachers, to see if we can use blogs. It is for people interested in social studies and social studies education, to see if we can learn to get it right. It's a blog for science fans, to promote good science and good science policy. It's a blog for people interested in good government and how to achieve it.
BS in Mass Communication, University of Utah
Graduate study in Rhetoric and Speech Communication, University of Arizona
JD from the National Law Center, George Washington University