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Background


How the TAAS is Created

The TAAS is created by committee through the following process:

  • First, a committee of Texas educators is created to review TEKS to develop appropriate objectives for assessment at each grade level and for each subject. Draft objectives are then written and refined by the committee based on input from Texas educators.
  • Next, sample test items are formulated to measure each objective. Guidelines are developed by committees of educators for assessing each objective. The objectives are used to outline eligible test content and test item formats. A test blueprint is developed that sets the length of the test and number of test items measuring each objective. A database of questions helps assure that the difficulty of the test remains the same from one administration to the next.
  • Tests are then administered.
  • The results of the test are reported to the student, their school, district, region and state.
  • Once the test is given and the school year has ended, that version of the test is released to the public with the newest expired tests online on the TEA website.

These steps of the process are repeated annually (according to the TAAS website) "to ensure that tests of the highest quality are developed."

  • Professional item writers develop items based on the guidelines and objectives.
  • TEA curriculum and assessment specialists review and revise the proposed test items.
  • Items are reviewed to judge appropriateness of item content and difficulty and to eliminate potential bias.
  • Items are field-tested and data is analyzed for reliability, validity, and potential bias.
  • Committees of educators trained in statistical analysis review the field tests data on each item and determine whether the items are appropriate for inclusion in the bank of items from which the test is built.
  • A final blueprint that establishes the length of the test and the number of items measuring each objective is developed.
  • All items and data is entered into computerized item bank from which tests are built which are designed to be equivalent in difficulty from one administration to the next.
  • Tests are administered and results are reported at the student, campus district, regional, and state levels.
  • All TAAS items are released to the public at the end of each school year (TEA).

Why does the test exist and what is the politics involved in creation, administration, and financial support to the TAAS/TEKS?

The question of why the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills test and the Texas Essential Knowledge curriculum exists is, at best, a matter of value. The obvious answer would be that we have standardized testing and curriculum because some people value the information gained by this testing and further value the curriculum which enables it. When citizens appear to value an idea, that idea can be easily adopted into politics. But to understand the reasons behind the creation of the TAAS test and the TEKS, one must first understand why people value the idea standardized testing.

According to The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy by Nicholaus Lemann, standardized testing as we know it began with Henry Chauncey, founder of the Educational Testing Service, and James Bryant Conant, president of Harvard in the 1930's and 1940's. According to Lemann, Chauncey accepted the concept of "mental testing" which was invented around the turn of the century by Alfred Binet.

The Stanford-Binet Test ( introduced in 1916 by Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman) became very popular and is known today as an "Intelligence Quotient" or "IQ" test. The "IQ" test was used in War World I by the U.S. Army to identify a soldier's intellectual abilities. The author reveals that Conant, who admired Thomas Jefferson, wanted a "national aristocracy" that was " ...based on merit and talent and not on background or social status." In fact, some of the theories of "mental testing" were used by some to prove eugenics -- the idea that mental capacity is based on race and genetics. Lemann also contends that the ideas of Chauncey and Conant coincided with Reynold B. Johnson's invention in the 1930's of the Markograph. This machine could detect lead-pencil marks on paper. With the concept of "mental testing' and the ability to machine grade tests came standardized testing.

The development of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills test, the Scholastic Assessment Test, and the Texas Academic Skills Program test are all examples of the value people in Texas place on measurable results to hold students and school systems accountable for learning. Clearly, these tests would not have been created and could not be wielded as political tools for those seeking or keeping political office if they were not accepted by the public. Both presidential candidates, for example, in the two thousand election race claim to want to measure the progress of schools. George W. Bush, Governor of Texas, has made accountability through standardized tests a major platform of his campaign. Testing in Texas came into being through Senate Bill I, started by his predecessor-- Democrat Governor Mark White and businessman Ross Perot.

According to the article in the Houston Post "Panel Tentatively Approves New Academic Assessment Test,"

The State Board of Education on Thursday tentatively approved a tough new academic skills test for Texas school children which may lead to higher test failure rates, especially among blacks and hispanics. But officials with the Texas Education Agency said the test should lead eventually to across-the-board improvements in student performance, and should not prevent any students from passing to the next grade (Lenz).

The question of why states rely on standardized testing remains controversial. Judy Salpeter and Kristin Foster in the article, "Playing the Testing Game" write

For those who support the importance of big-picture testing in schools today, the ability of the tests to provide them with data to inform their curriculum decisions is key. In an example from the Centralia Schools in Washington, administrator Peter Hendrickson describes how poor showings on standardized reading tests in past years pushed his district to adopt a brand-new reading program with which they are seeing excellent results. (Salpeter)

 Salpeter and Foster; however, show another side to standardized testing in their next paragraph. 

On the other hand, many educators worry that standardized tests are being used inappropriately- for purposes for which they were never designed. As Paul Barton of the Educational Testing Service's Policy Information Center points out in 'Too Much Testing of the Wrong Kind; Too Little of the Right Kind in K-12 Education' (www.ets.org), standardized tests were never designed to measure an individual teacher's ability-even though they are being held up by many political leaders as tools for doing just that. (Salpeter)

Both presidential candidates, Vice-President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush, advocate accountability of teachers and students. Mr. Gore's campaign web-page which he calls his Education Blue-Book illustrates his willingness to test students, but also offers differing assessments he terms a "report card." The candidate writes, "To ensure that we are getting the most from our investments, we need to test our students, our teachers, and our schools - holding each to the highest standards."

Mr. Bush's campaign web-site also holds to the notion of measurable results. The text explains 

Governor Bush believes that the principles of effective school reform are clear: set high standards, give schools the flexibility to meet those standards, measure student's progress, reward schools where student performance is improving, blow the whistle on schools where performance is stagnating, empower parents with information and options- and do not give up on any child.

The role of politics is to influence and control government. Without the support of voting citizens, standardized tests could not be a reality. As long as people of Texas believe that the TAAS and the TEKS hold value as tools for measuring education they are not destined to depart from political rhetoric or Texas any time soon.

Who are the Texas educators involved in writing the TAAS and what groups do they represent?

They include classroom teachers, curriculum specialists, administrators, and education service center staff. Since its implementation, almost 7000 Texas Educators have served on the myriad of committees involved in the development of the TAAS test. Those on the committees represent the state geographically, ethnically, by gender, and by the size and type of school districts.

Besides Texas educators, who else is involved in writing the TAAS?

According to Jeanne Donovan of the Texas Education Consumers Association, TAAS, the SAT, and other state assessments are written by The Psychological Corporation (PC) and are aligned with national standards. PC is a subsidiary of Harcourt Brace, and Harcourt Brace is part of Harcourt General, Inc. HGI, is the nation's largest publisher of books and other materials for education. Besides Harcourt Brace, HGI also owns General Cinema Corporation (GCC) which provides advertising and entertainment, Communication Skill Builders, Inc. which develops and markets products for speech and language professionals, and Assessment System Inc. which is the nation's leading provider of computer-delivered licensing and credentialing examinations.

Who creates the TEKS standards?

As stipulated in the Texas Code (TEC), Chapter 28, the required curriculum consists of foundation and enrichment subjects. The foundation TEKS are those of English Language Arts, and Reading, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. Spanish Language Arts and English as a Second Language are also adopted as foundation TEKS under TEC. Under these standards, districts are required to provide instruction in the essential knowledge and skills of the appropriate grade levels in the foundation curriculum. Districts are to use the essential knowledge and skills in the enrichment curriculum as guidelines for instruction.

According to Cheryl Wright, Curriculum Specialist, in early 1991 there was a movement in the State Legislature to realign the curriculum standards in the State of Texas. The State of Texas mandated that the Essential Elements should be used by teachers to align curriculum in their classrooms. State legislators felt that the Essential Elements were too broad and were not specific in scope. When the education committee of the State Legislature met in 1994 (committee of legislators, TEA, and consultants), they decided that the Essential Elements were not serving the needs of students in Texas. So they put into the Texas Education Code that revisions would be made and the new elements would be titled "The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)." The TEKS standard was initially put in place in 1995.

Chairmen of writing committees were hired to address what standards would be used to outline the TEKS in each discipline. Each chairman put together writing teams of educators representing high schools, parent groups, professors, and representives from private industry. These writing teams were given the task of coming up with standards that would be used to outline the TEKS standards. These professionals were content specialists in their fields. Teams were comprised of persons from all nationalities to ensure fairness across the board. The commissioner of education in Texas at that time was Mike Moses.

After the writing teams put together their drafts for the chairmen, a final draft was executed and sent to national reviewers across the country. The national reviewers consisted of professors, book writers and education specialists. After clarification, it was sent to a national panel of education specialists for review. After this process, the draft was sent back to TEA for presentation to the State Legislature education committee for adoption. It was started in 1995 and fully adopted in 1997.

According to the Texas Education Agency, TEKS in the following broad categories were adopted and are rewritten by committee as needed (TEA).

  • Agriculture Science Technology
  • Business Education
  • Career Orientation
  • English Language Arts and Reading
  • Fine Arts
  • Health Education
  • Health Science Technology
  • Home Economics Education
  • Industrial Technology Education/Technology Education
  • Languages other than English
  • Marketing Education
  • Mathematics
  • Physical Education
  • Science
  • Spanish Language Arts and English as a Second Language
  • Technology Applications
  • Trade and Industrial Education

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