TAKS: Is it Helping or Hindering Our Students?

It is no secret to those who know me – I am not a fan of the TAKS test. I am not a fan of high-stakes testing in general, but I especially have trouble stomaching an exam when the majority of the test is comprised of information that is obsolete after graduation. And then to top off my frustration with the exam, under current Texas educational law, students who have not passed all four exit-level sections of the test are unable to receive their diploma. So, despite having completed thirteen years of education and receiving the required credits, students who have yet to pass the TAKS test(s) are told they do not get to graduate. So essentially one test, (and even one question on one test) can keep a student from receiving his/her diploma.

If the skills on the test were basic skills, or relevant skills, I might be okay with this law, but these tests are tough. The exit-level science test requires knowledge of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. The math test requires knowledge of Algebra and Geometry. The English Language Arts test requires reading and writing skills along with the intense ability to focus (it is really long). The exit-level Social Studies test requires the ability to recall information learned from eighth grade through eleventh grade. I guess my problem is that I don’t really understand the point of the tests.

I have heard people outside the realm of education say the purpose of the exams is to make sure our students do not graduate before they know basics skills… like Physics? Most of the arguments I hear come from people who have never even looked at the test; people who just blindly adhere to the regulations because it is a law. Which leads me to the most frustrating and most often argument I hear which is, “We need to hold students accountable because it is the law?” Well, there have been lots of bad laws over the years. Does anyone remember the Jim Crow laws? If as a country we were to have blindly followed these laws, then blacks and whites would still be segregated.

I just don’t get it. Yes, I want our students to graduate knowing how to read and write, how to balance a check book, calculate a tip, understand how history affects current society, and understand basic science. I would also like our students to be able to think critically, question and think for themselves so they do not follow blindly, work effectively in collaborative groups, listen critically, articulate their thoughts well in front of an audience and be able to manage information and validate sources. The TAKS test ensures none of this.

Unfortunately so many educators feel such pressure to prepare students for the TAKS test (with good reason) that they fail to ever demonstrate the relevance of what they are teaching. They fail to teach the items within the curriculum that are useful outside of the walls of the school. So, we have students who graduate and can solve quadratic equations, classify living organisms and distinguish between a plant and an animal cell but don’t know how to budget money, complete a financial aid form, solve a real-world problem or think for themselves. These are the skills we need to be teaching and test (if we must).

To switch gears a little… Ms. Sanchez, a teacher at The Academy, took it upon herself to champion a cause for the seniors of Irving IISD. Current IISD board policy limits students who have earned all graduation credits but have failed to pass all four TAKS tests from participating in commencement activities. Ms. Sanchez worked diligently to change this policy; unfortunately, at Monday’s board meeting the IISD school board voted 5 to 2 to keep the current policy unchanged. Regardless of whether you agree with Ms. Sanchez’s effort, she deserves accolades for standing up for what she believes is right and working to assist the students in our district to get the recognition they deserve.

I am also extremely proud of a group of twenty or so students who attended the board meeting to show their support for the effort and ten students who spoke at the board meeting in favor of the policy change. Although not all of these students have passed all four sections of the TAKS test, they each possess many of the attributes I think educators strive to develop in their students: determination, perseverance, empathy, creativity and the courage to fight for something they believe in. Perhaps if we had more educators, community members, administrators, students, parents and school board members willing to think out of the box and stand up for what they think is right, we wouldn’t be tied to the TAKS.

And as David Warlick says, that is my, “2 cents worth.”

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23 Comments on “TAKS: Is it Helping or Hindering Our Students?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I totally agree! Thank you for sharing with us.

  2. LeftLaneEnds Says:

    Ok – that’s MORE than 2¢! More like a buck fifty or so…

    I’m with ya’…

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Well said Angela! I totally agree.

    Michel and the students should be commended!!!

    This issue will be brought to the IISD Board of Trustees attention again….

    L.K.

  4. Wesley Fryer Says:

    I agree with you Angela. A lot of adults talk about the TAKS test, but how many have actually taken it to know what it includes and requires?

  5. Brian Crosby Says:

    I’ve thought for years that CEO’s, legistlators, governors, etc. should be required to take the sixth grade reading and math exam. To make it safer for them we could publish the average score and individual scores without names (but mail them their own score). Maybe we should start a grass roots campaign! : )

  6. Stephanie Says:

    Amen! I couldn’t have said it better myself!

  7. Miguel Says:

    Angela, your argument is poignant, beautiful, well-stated, but does it increase TAKS Scores? How do we fight this as educators?

    I honestly believe we can’t fight it from behind our desks in schools, or in faculty meetings. We have to send a clear message to lesgislators, mobilize as a group to fight our elected officials.

    How much negative attention was focused on Ms. Sanchez for standing up? And, how many stood with her?

    Thank you for sharing,
    Miguel Guhlin
    http://www.mguhlin.net/blog

  8. astephens Says:

    I appreciate all of your support and positive comments on this very frustrating topic. I think Miguel makes a valid point. If we are actually going to change the system, it is going to take a unified effort and legislators will have to get involved. So, any of you up for a revolution? Seriously though, I have just tried to begin by trying to educate people in my community… although it is certainly not working as well as I hoped or moving at the speed I would like.

    To answer Miguel’s questions regarding Ms. Sanchez –

    There has been a lot of attention given in the Dallas Morning News and on some local talk radio stations to the policy she was trying to change, and unfortunately, most of it was negative. I plan on posting soon and include links to everything I have seen published… so keep an eye out.

    And, there were not a whole lot of people “standing” with Michel at the board meetings. There were people who attended in support, students who spoke and teachers who wrote letters to the board in support, but unfortunately all of this support came from one school and now there is negative attention on this particular school (mine) because some of the board members and community members are questioning why we feel the need to work so hard to get our students who have not passed TAKS to walk. They are missing the point and not seeing it as a problem with TAKS but a problem with our school… pretty frustrating.

    I would appreciate any advice you guys have about trying to begin to shift the testing paradigm…

  9. Anonymous Says:

    I was not able to attend the board meetings, I personally don’t know anything about the school board members. If it was my desire to pursue the issue, I would be inclined to look into the possibility of any business relationships or contact with special interest groups that any of the school board members may have. Since school board members are elected officials they ought to be be scrutinized by the public. Public support was very positive, while the vote was 5-2 against. One never knows if any board memebers are in cahoots with the TAKS testing people. Just a thought.


  10. this is great stuff. felicidades. with some other grad students at UT San Antonio, i started a TAKS Boycott group:

    http://taksboycott.blogspot.com

    we have a couple of academic papers (research and theory), and a silly, easy to follow powerpoint.

  11. KStringer Says:

    Great post Angela. You may be interested in reading this website.

  12. KStringer Says:

    Great Post Angela. Check out this site

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Trying to get rid of TAKS is like trying to bite the hand that feeds ya. Pearson Foundation, the “giving arm” of Pearson NCS AGS, has given money to Irving ISD. And they do such good things for the community. I mean who wants to argue about this? They also partner with Nokia.

  14. astephens Says:

    I certainly appreciate the funds and time Pearson has donated to Irving ISD. And I do not want to give the impression that I am totally against a form of “accountability” but I think tying assessments to graduation is unrealistic.

    Why can’t the assessment chart student growth? Why can’t the assessment allow a personalized section such as student portfolio presentations? Why isn’t the assessment differentiated by student learning styles and levels of knowledge? Why can’t the assessment test “basic” or relevant skills? These questions address just a few of the problems I have with the TAKS test…


  15. […] by musingsfromtheacademy on May 23rd, 2007 The Irving ISD school board met last night to revisit the idea of allowing seniors who have earned all credits for graduation but who have not passed all sections […]


  16. […] Unfortunately so many educators feel such pressure to prepare students for the TAKS test (with good reason) that they fail to ever demonstrate the relevance of what they are teaching. They fail to teach the items within the curriculum that are useful outside of the walls of the school. So, we have students who graduate and can solve quadratic equations, classify living organisms and distinguish between a plant and an animal cell but don’t know how to budget money, complete a financial aid form, solve a real-world problem or think for themselves. (2) […]

  17. Matt Says:

    i have taken the TAKS test for many years and only here recently has it become an issue. During the end of my junior year in high school i failed the math seccion of the TAKS. Little did i know that it would cause me to possibly not graduate. TAKS time has always been very hectic and stressful not only for me, but my fellow classmates aswell. Even teachers would tell us students that they hated having to take away from their normal teaching schedule just to make sure that we pass this “important” test, that unfortunently determines whether or not we graduate. Its not right that a single exam could cause so much hell. Not only are we required as students to pass the TAKS, we must also worry about final exams, which also determine whether we graduate or not. Im not saying that Austin should get rid of the TAKS all together, but it should not be such a burden with negative cosiquences. TAKS should not hold students back, scores should be viewed like SATS(which by the way is yet another thing we need to worry about)

  18. erica johnson Says:

    – i am currently a senior a horn high school in mesquite texas an i am struggling with the math portion of the test and recently i failed by 1 question and it crushed my heart to where it had me depressed for a few short weeks! the fact that this test determains whether or not i gaduate with my class is what hurts the most. 12 years of hard work and passing grades could soon go down the drain!

  19. Mike Says:

    My stepson just moved to Texas from Pennsylvania last year (where he lived with his biological father) and is extremely upset with having to endure the TAKS test. I still remember when they introduced it as the TAAS test back in 1990 (I was in the 3rd grade at the time) and I strongly consider it an absolute abomination and waste of time. While I have nothing tangible to back this statement up with, I feel this test is nothing more than a way of gaining statistics on the students in Texas. It certainly didn’t benefit me when I was in school and continues to not do so to this day. What I would like to know is if there are any groups that I can join to protest this damn test. Thanks!

  20. Lp Says:

    TAKS is coming to an end. Testing will be handled as an end of course exam which is similar to what is done in universities. So no more TAKS issues as of next year, I believe. As a side note, I took the TAAS and it was pretty easy…it helps when you have good teachers that teach the course material without caring or even going over TAAS testing preparations :). I thank all those great teachers that didn’t “teach me how to take an exam” but actually taught the subject I was in class for :).

  21. David Martin Says:

    Two of my three children are in high school and are in the gifted and talented program. They are both also honor students and one of them has the highest GPA in her school. Their grandfather just passed away and I was told by the school they attend that if they don’t take the test, yes, they will graduate, but it will affect their GPA’s. This is a crime. How can you use a test that’s purpose is to evaluate the school and its teachers against the students. You can’t be tied twice for the same crime, it’s called double jeopardy. You can however in the State of Texas prevent a child that has passed all the required classes necessary to move from one grade to the next and eventually graduate because they don’t pass this test. I think the State of Texas should be ashamed of themselves for this TAKS test program.

    How is it possible to spend 12 plus years in school, pass all your required classes and then not be allowed to graduate because of one test? It would make more sense for teachers to pay attention to the students and better evaluate them during the normal course of the year and not pass them to the next grade if they don’t pass. If they student accomplishes all that is required to graduate and you hold back there graduation because of this test, it’s double jeopardy and should be a crime.


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