WITH NUMBER TWO PENCILS IN HAND


Public Policy


December 10, 2001


Each year students across the nation are forced into rooms where no talking is allowed. They come equipped with number two pencils and a yearís preparation. They are there to take a standardized test. In Texas this test is called the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. Many students walk into this test knowing that they will pass and knowing that their time would be better spent in thousands of different areas. Other students come in highly anxious, knowing that not passing the test means that they will not graduate. As they walk in everyone discusses the stupidity of the test, and the desire to be anywhere but there. These discussions start as soon as students start taking these tests, in the first grade. As the students get older, the conversations become more complicated, analyzing all of the problems behind the test: the testís low caliber of difficulty, the high-stakes of the test, and teaching just to pass the test.


Many states throughout the United States have installed a nationally recognized test to give to their students. These tests allow students across many different states to be compared. Originally Texas did use one of these nationally recognized tests. However, in 1980, they stopped using such tests and began to create a test of their own. This test slowly evolved into the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, which was adopted in 1990. The idea behind this test was to specifically measure the elements that the Texas Education Code finds essential in each grade level. The test is retaken annually in grades three through eight, and an exit level test is given in the tenth grade. Students must pass the tenth grade test before graduation; therefore, they retake it every year until they pass it. (1997, Judson)


The State Board of Education (SBOE) oversees all of the procedures for the creation of the test, along with the rest of the Texas educational system. The governor appoints the commissioner for this board and the board members, who are representatives of fifteen areas of the state, are elected among the rest of the board. Everything that happens in the Texas education world must go through these people first. The board members head committees on planning, instruction and school finance. However, the SBOE must report back to the state government. The stateís senate has an education committee. This committee passes laws and allocates money to pass onto the SBOE. The chairman of this committee is Senator Teel Bivens (Republican), from Amarillo. He is currently in his third session as chairman of this committee. He has done many wonderful things for the education world, but seems to have stayed away from the standardized tests of the state. While new teacher recruitment and making higher education more accessible have been large on the committeeís agenda; standardized tests do not appear. This seems slightly ironic, as students cannot be fully prepared for a higher education as the TAAS test remains in its current condition.


Various committees of the Texas Education Agency, over seen by the SBOE, develop the test. Since the testís implementation almost seven thousand classroom teachers, curriculum specialists, administrators and education service center staff have served on one of more of these committees. (TEA) The following is the list of steps used to create each test, as it is reported from the Texas Education Agency (* is used to show steps that are repeated annually).


Ő Committees of Texas educators review the state-mandated curriculum to develop appropriate assessment objectives for a specific grade and/or subject test. Educators provide advice on a model or structure for assessing the particular subject that aligns with good classroom instruction.


Ő Educator committees work with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to prepare draft objectives, which are distributed widely for review by teachers, curriculum specialists, assessment specialists, and administrators.


Ő Draft objectives and proposed skills are refined based on input from Texas educators.


Ő Sample test items are written to measure each objective and, when necessary, are piloted by Texas students from volunteer classrooms.


Ő Educator committees assist in the developing guidelines for assessing each objective. These guidelines outline the eligible test content and test item formats and include sample items.


Ő With educator input, a preliminary test blueprint is developed that sets the length