The Damage of Texas Testing

K-12 Testing

The August 30, 2002, Texas Observer includes a fine article demolishing Texas’ test-based school “reform.” “Test Case: Hard Lessons from the TAAS,” by Jake Bernstein, explores many problems that are also occurring in other states. The article concludes that “[TAAS] produces a class of students who will be perfect employees for a low-wage economy. They will lack training in critical thinking and be unprepared to find knowledge in the information age. It’s not a good recipe for a vibrant democracy.”


This year, Texas is replacing the well known TAAS with TAKS – Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test. Texas third-graders now have to pass TAKS to be promoted. As those children reach the fifth and seventh grades, they will again face promotional gates testing. The Intercultural Development Research Association predicts 35,000 children will be held back in third grade this year. Dropout rates in Texas are already very high (see Examiner, Fall 1999), and grade retention usually causes an increase in the dropout rate.


Referring to the impact of the TAAS on teaching, teacher Becky Mcadoo said, “It became like an assembly-line education. Nothing mattered but the TAAS.” The Observer reported federal data showing the teacher resignation rate climbed from 8.6% to 11.3% from 1997 to 2001.


“Under pressure from politicians, businessmen and administrators, school districts consistently inflate scores,” the article concludes. “There are various ways to game the system.” These include placing children in special education, keeping children home on test days, and focusing teaching on kids with close-to-passing scores while ignoring those far from passing or sure to pass.


Former teacher Deborah Diffley said, “I’ve seen whole classes sent down the hall to watch videos while others were drilled.” Several cheating scandals also have erupted in Texas.


Other test data don’t confirm TAAS gains. SAT and ACT scores of Texas high school students have been flat while other states have posted increases (see Examiner, Spring 2002). Only a third of all state college freshmen test-takers passed an exam intended to evaluate the skills of incoming students – most all of whom had already passed TAAS.


Bernstein also quoted extensively from Texas college students regarding their disdain for TAAS (see Examiner, Spring 2002). “Together the [students’] essays paint a picture of schools where ever-expanding TAAS practice forced out real curriculum and education came second to the manufacture of high test scores.”


The article particularly criticized TAAS’ impact on reading and writing: “Even the winners lose if all they get is functional literacy,” noted the Observer. Former teacher Julie Pennington explained, “[Y]ou give [some students who pass TAAS writing] a blank piece of paper and ask them to write a story without some kind of template, they can’t produce anything.”


“Contrary to the official line, minorities have suffered more in a TAAS-centered system,” the article reports: “’Part of me feels like the test is in place to keep immigrant kids from succeeding,’ says a teacher who instructs mostly minority 9th-and 10th-graders in Austin on reading.”


Fear of repression keeps Texas teachers from denouncing the system. The article used the names of retired teachers, but current teachers were anonymous. “Teachers who speak out can be charged with insubordination and fired,” the article explains.


• Observer of 8/30/02.
• For more on Texas, see back issues of Examiner and the FairTest website.