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Opinions

(Names appear in reverse alpha order)

Please note: All comments below are the sole work of the author alone and not edited or changed by the members of the group.

John Eurey

(Link to J. Eurey's Bio Statement)

Instructional Evaluation is a research course designed to help graduate level students identify, research, and distinguish between what is fact and fiction in education in Texas. The State of Texas at the elementary, junior and high school level has one evaluation instrument in place to determine if students in grades 3-12 are proficient in reading, writing and arithmetic. This test is called the Texas Assessment and Academic Skills Test (TAAS).

In the early 1980's the State of Texas mandated that every student in High School will be proficient in reading, writing and arithmetic. The State further mandated that each student take and pass all 3 sections (reading, writing, and math), of the TAAS test to exit high school. TAAS is a basic skills test given by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), to determine if students are proficient in all three disciplines to exit high school with a diploma.

While reading this research, our research team will give you valuable insight as to how the test was formed, what politics were behind introducing this test, who are the major players, what political forces were behind getting this test into the classroom, the impact of TEA and the State Government and most important, the economic impact of the major players who designed it.

This research although exhausting, was somewhat difficult in scope because of the level of secrecy you feel when asking questions about TAAS. Our team consists of a cross-section of educators from various backgrounds and strong opinions. Our aim in this project is to learn and to provide other practitioners of education an opportunity to learn what is TAAS and how can it help you become a better teacher or educator.

After completing my research, I am in favor of some level of testing. I do not agree that TAAS is the only guiding light of exit tests. It's true that accountability is important to see if learning is taking place. It says something that in the State of Texas that if TAAS is the answer to measure accountability, than why are student's in Texas some of the lowest performing students on national achievement tests such as the SAT? It bears to mention that this research gives you insight to wonder, explore and hold the masterminds of TAAS accountable to the highest standards of academia in a democratic society we call America.

Lawrence Dunleavy

(Link to L. Dunleavy's Bio Statement)

Through the study of evaluating curriculum I have come to realize that the issue is an extremely complex one. Is what is being taught valuable to know? Does our method of evaluation align with our ideals of democracy? Does our curriculum encourage democratic values? Does the curriculum really prepare people to meet the challenges of life? These and many other questions have led, for me, to a new dimension of how I perceive my own work as a teacher.

My original intention as a teacher in the state of Texas was to open young minds to the many possibilities and ideas that life abundantly offers and to act as a facilitator as they develop their own skills that will help them through life. I believe that standardized testing has usurped some of my own idealism about the value of an education. I do not believe that a student's ability to score well on a standardized test will necessarily mean that they will be able to apply what they know in a useful and productive manner. In effect, tests, such as the TAAS, act as a Pavlovian dinner bell. I feel that my ability to help children truly understand the nature and application of ideas is impeded by having to teach a set of given constructs that may have no relation to how well a student will succeed against life's many challenges.

Through this evaluating curriculum class I have gained a greater awareness of options to standardized testing and multiple choice type evaluations. There are many possibilities in evaluating curriculum. I believe that taking the politics out of the public education system and leaving the choices open to teachers, administrators, curriculum specialists, and to students will be the first great step toward truly evaluating curriculum and fostering the concepts of democracy.

Cathy Clay

(Link to C. Clay's Bio Statement)

Much has been said about the state of education in Texas, specifically the use of the scores from TAAS tests to determine everything from how much money and positive or negative recognition schools receive, to whether a student gets a high school diploma. In the 1999-2000 school year Houston Independent School District teachers' bonuses were based entirely on how well their school scored on the TAAS. Principals use computer programs to track the TAAS scores of students by teacher. The pressure of the TAAS infects everyone involved in education from superintendents to secretaries, from teachers to parents to students. With so much riding on the schools' and students' performances on this one assessment tool, it is no wonder that the primary business of a school, "to prepare a student for life after high school with the knowledge needed to be a productive member of a democratic society," is being superseded by the race for the scores.

The following is a personal experience regarding how the has TAAS affected the instruction on one high school campus.

The exit level TAAS tests are given in Reading, Writing and Mathematics. Starting in September, the whole school begins preparing. We are given pep talks, instructions on how to teach test taking, lists of helpful hints, and directions on our TAAS strategies. Each year is a little different but the theme is always the same, "Teach the TAAS." Every teacher in every subject is instructed to have the students write at least one TAAS style, five paragraph essay each six weeks. Every teacher in every subject area is also expected to teach TAAS math word problems every week. Reading passages are to be given by every teacher often, followed by a discussion of TAAS reading strategies. All of these actions are to be taken by the teachers of all subjects to improve students' test scores on these three subjects. Something has got to give. Unfortunately the students are made to suffer by not receiving the fullest instruction possible in each of their subjects because all of their teachers are told to spend so much time on TAAS. This prioritization of the TAAS to the detriment of all else has got to stop. TEA must find an alternative to this high-stakes test that is becoming the focus of learning in Texas.

Margo Carr

( Link to M. Carr's Bio Statement)

This class on Instructional Evaluation has raised the issue of how what we do in education affects whether students develop into adult citizens of this republic with the necessary skills to participate fully in this democratic society. To me this means that the individual needs to know how their government works, and their role in the selection of that government. Additionally it means that they need to have the intellectual tools needed to participate in society, both in making life decisions but also in participating in the economy.

The TEKS seem to be comprehensive, and seem to encourage the development of students who can think independently and obtain a deep understanding of different subjects. The TAAS, on the other hand, seems to have the opposite affect on the education of students. This is because the high stakes involved with TAAS have resulted in schools feeling pressured to make their students perform well on the test, often to the exclusion of a well-rounded education. This pressure is often exasperated by the fact that administrators – superintendents and principals – receive financial incentives based on the passing rates of students. Additionally, teachers’ jobs have been placed at risk when students fail to do well on the test.

The idea of accountability is not one that, in principal, I am opposed to. As a taxpayer, I want to know that my money is being put to good use. I want to be assured that the claims of educators are, in fact, true and can be proven. However, the TAAS, as a minimum skills test, does not seem, to me, to be serving this purpose. If the public schools are testing for mediocrity, then that is all that they will achieve.

Additionally, I am disturbed that because of the TAAS, schools are ignoring those things that can enrich a student’s life, and make them more able to deal with a complex world. As a Mathematics teacher I have always felt that students who do not know math are at a disadvantage in an ever more technical world. However, I also feel that people who do not have an understanding of the world that they live in are incapable of functioning in our society.

As a teacher at the college/university level, the ever-increasing number of students that I see in my remedial classes also disturbs me. When I started teaching Remedial Mathematics, I had no more than 25 students to a class. Even at the University of Houston, I had no more than 35 in a class. This semester the University increased the class size to 50 because so many students needed remediation, and there were not enough instructors to maintain the smaller class size. This in spite of the fact that two self-paced classes were introduced last spring. This contradicts the State’s claims that students, as evidenced by TAAS scores, are doing better academically.

When this project began, I did not have a favorable opinion of the TAAS, primarily because of the local press coverage about how basic the Exit Level TAAS is. My view of it has become even more jaded. I do not see how we as Texans can allow a system to continue that does not push our students to higher levels of thinking and understanding. How can we allow our students to only achieve minimum skills in Reading, Writing and Mathematics and call that that education?

Parents, citizens at large, and educators need to unite to find a way to better prepare our children for the future. I do not know what that better way is, I only know that what we now have is not it.

Beth Ardoin

(Link to B. Ardoin's Bio Statement)

This course, Instructional Evaluation, raises many questions about not only the validity and reliability of the tests we give our children in Texas, but it also raises questions about what we are teaching. How objective are our objective tests? With so much emphasis on the Texas high risk test, TAAS, it is important to look at what the state feels is imperative to test (thus important to teach). If TAAS is a valid test of skills for our public school students, then it must test what we WANT OUR CHILDREN TO LEARN, according to the State of Texas. As a parent, I think it is more important to start one level closer to home. I think it is important that parents ask "What are MY goals for MY children?" With this question firmly answered in our minds, we (parents) should ask, "Are schools preparing our children to fulfill these goals, and, if not, what are the alternatives?"

For my family, I would like the children prepared to participate as members of the community. I would like them to believe in the good of this country and be willing to change the things that are not right. I would like for them to be prepared (armed with tools of knowledge) to view injustices as opportunities for change where they must participate. None of these skills are tested in TAAS.

Is it important that they learn to read, write and calculate? Absolutely, in this industrialized nation, all of these foundations are important. Does TAAS allow us to objectively and reliably test for these skills? I think not. Some of the questions of TAAS are not well written, in that they are linguistically incorrect. (For example, one question after a brief story asked, "What would you do with a <object named>"? According to proper English, there is NO wrong answer to this question. Thus, if the TAAS answer did not include all of the possible answers, the test itself is flawed.)

But, it is also important that they learn to communicate. Being multilingual would be beneficial, but it is more important to me that our children learn to write well, speak well and express themselves with confidence. It is important to me that my family prioritizes God, family, and nation, in that order. Like James Banks, I believe that education should help students develop "the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to participate in reflective civic action."

How are these goals aligned with what is being tested by TAAS? The correlation is remote. With this high stakes test, the state attempts to assure that students who received a high school diploma are capable of the 3R's. But, this alone is not enough. Much too much of the school day is spent preparing for this high stakes test. Were this a problem for a single year of school, it could probably be dismissed as insignificant, but this process begins in Kindergarten with assessment tests to check a child's readiness for TAAS and includes almost every grade through the 12 years of schooling.

What are the alternatives for parents? Some private schools choose not to follow the TAAS/TEKS curriculum, and these can be an alternative. Home Schooling (which is also considered a private school) is another alternative. But, if progress is to be made for the sake of the children, avoidance is not the answer. Parents must become involved at the local level in the classroom and with the administration of the local school. Get to know the superintendent. Find other parents who believe in new goals for the school and take these concerns to local meetings. Then work your way up to the state and national level if necessary. What is at stake is more than a test that allows children to move forward in school. What is at stake is the education of our children.