Each year schools administer the annual Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test to students in grades 3–11. Designed by the Texas Education Agency, the state-mandated assessments measure what students have learned in particular subjects in each grade level. The tests cover subject areas including reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies, as well as an exit-level assessment required for high school graduation.
A student is required to achieve a score of 2,100 to pass; a score above 2,400 earns “commended” status. Modified versions of the test are administered to students receiving special education services.
Students’ cumulative TAKS scores are tabulated and the school’s assigned one of four accountability ratings to reflect how the district and its schools are meeting educational requirements.
For schools deemed academically unacceptable, the rating comes with a series of sanctions and penalties. Parents have the option of transferring their children out of the school, and the school can be reorganized by the state or even closed.
The passage of former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 consistently increases the standards Texas schools need to meet each year. Leander ISD educators like Nancy Tarvin, executive director of elementary curriculum, and Todd Washburn, executive director of secondary curriculum, help the district ensure students’ learning is aligned to the state’s mandated curriculum, and ultimately, the topics on which they will be tested during the TAKS.
“Our curriculum is focused on teaching for understanding,” Tarvin said.
The district uses an online curriculum management application tool called Eduphoria, which provides assessment and data analysis. According to Washburn, the program can interpret test results in real time and provide teachers with online resources that support specific skills.
From TAKS to STAAR
In 2007, Texas legislators voted to repeal the TAKS in favor of a new evaluation called the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. In the new system, which will be implemented in the 2011–12 school year, graduating high school seniors will be required to pass 12 end-of-course exams in four core subject areas: math, science, language and social studies. The first students required to meet the end-of-course testing requirements to earn a diploma will be the class of 2015—current seventh graders.
STAAR tests will also be administered to students in grades 3–8, with the aim of preparing them for English and algebra end-of-course exams.
According to Gloria Zyskowski, TEA deputy associate commissioner of student assessment, the new tests will be significantly more rigorous and will measure a child’s performance and academic growth.
To test or not to test
Leander ISD parent Dale Harrison thinks standardized testing, in general, has its place.
“Without standardized testing, it is difficult to compare relative performance and ensure students from different schools/regions are provided the same level of education,” said Harrison, who admitted he knew nothing about the state’s announced transition to the STARR assessments.
“I also feel that sometimes this kind of testing can get out of hand,” Harrison said. “I think one of the greatest challenges to interpreting the data is ensuring the district and the state are accurately taking into account those students who do not come from English-speaking homes.”
Harrison added that having lived in Canada, California and Arizona, standardized testing in Texas receives much more attention.
“Our kids spend more time preparing for and taking standardized tests here than anywhere we have lived,” Harrison said.