THE TEXAS ASSESSMENT OF ACADEMIC SKILLS TEST, for all the good it has done, has always stuck in the craw of some people. The Religious Right opposes the test, as Paul Burka notes in “ The Disloyal Opposition”. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund has filed suit claiming the test discriminates. And there are other citizens and educators who believe the test is too hard, too easy, or unnecessary. But despite problems with the test such as cheating (by schools and school districts, not students!) to improve rankings, I believe the TAAS is just about right, except for a problem in the high school years. During the coming legislative session, the Texas Education Agency ( TEA) as well as Texans for Education and the Texas Business and Education Coalition (of which I am a member) will advocate certain amendments to the test designed to improve the testing in high school. Since these issues will soon be before the public, and since misinformation and misunderstanding about the TAAS are common, perhaps it’s time to clear up matters a little with a pop test on the test.
1. Why do we need the TAAS?
The test has given us accurate and specific information about student achievement. Consequently, the TAAS has introduced accountability at long last into the public schools. It can be used to track the performance of school districts, individual schools, and even individual teachers. It’s the best tool we have for improving public schools.
2. Is the TAAS doing any good?
Yes. The proof is that the scores are improving. In the past four years test scores on the TAAS have risen quite dramatically both in reading and in math. Students in the third grade are scoring higher than third graders in the past, students in the fourth grade are scoring higher than fourth graders in the past, and so on. Black students are scoring higher than they used to, as are Hispanic and white students. Texas public schools can be an easy target for critics since it isn’t hard to find all sorts of problems and difficulties. But in specific, necessary, fundamental areas like reading and mathematics, the schools are improving year by year in each grade and for all students. This means that in public education, Texas is on the right course.
3. What’s on the TAAS, why, and who cares?
Every TAAS test covers reading and mathematics. Tests in grades four, eight, and ten have a writing section. The eighth-grade test also includes science and social studies. The test concentrates on reading and mathematics because students must be able to read and compute to be successful in any other class. There is always a temptation to add more to the test, but it’s a temptation that should be resisted. The TAAS should measure what students have learned in the most fundamental subjects—reading, writing, and mathematics. Adding more and more subjects tends to obscure the