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NCLB Outrages

Numerous tryout tests annoy educators

If having to take the TAKS is horrendous, then what is having to take it twice?

by Michelle M. Martinez

Local educators say they are fed up with the increasing number of tryout tests the state requires students to take each year, and they fear there's no relief in sight.

They may be right.

Lisa Chandler, the state's director of student assessment, said this week that as long as legislators and Gov. Rick Perry order up new state exams, the Texas Education Agency must test them on students as part of the development process.

"Field testing is absolutely key to having a fair, valid and reliable testing system, Chandler said.

Last month, school districts received information about which campuses and grades will be required to participate in field tests for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills online end-of-course exams in geometry and biology and the online Reading Proficiency Tests in English II. Students designated as having limited English proficiency take the RPTE II.
Field testing

Every year, the Texas Education Agency requires school districts to administer field tests to help the state develop or revise exams, including the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Districts must administer these tryout tests in addition to the regular TAKS. Field testing will begin in January, with students taking exams in:

* TAKS writing, grades 4 and 7
* TAKS reading, grade 9
* TAKS English/language arts, grades 10 and 11
* TAKS reading and math in Spanish, grades 5 and 6
* TAKS alternative test for special education students, grades 3-11
* Online version of an exam that measures the progress of English-language learners, grades 2-12
* End-of-course exams in biology and geometry

Source: Texas Education Agency

In addition, a field test for an alternative to the TAKS for severely disabled students that is being developed to comply with President Bush's sweeping public school overhaul, No Child Left Behind, will also be administered.

These tests come on top of the regular TAKS exams and local, so-called benchmark tests designed to prepare students for the TAKS.

In the Northside Independent School District, juniors will spend 19 of the 36 weeks in class this year taking at least one test.

Forty-six of the North East Independent School District's 69 schools will be required to take at least one of the field tests across multiple grade levels and subjects. In Northside, 73 of 92 campuses will be required to administer the field tests, and the same goes for nearly all of the San Antonio Independent School District's 92 campuses.

Chandler said nearly all of the state's 1,037 school districts and about 4,800 schools within them will be required to participate in field testing this year.

Laura Witte, director of testing for NEISD, hadn't expected so many schools to be tapped. Her concerns about the large number of campuses required to participate are echoed by other San Antonio administrators.

"I don't know if every district got hit this hard or it's just large districts," she said. "But I do know that it feels overwhelming."

The state will test about 475,000 students in TAKS field tests alone this year, about 36,000 students fewer than last year. But any decrease in TAKS field tests a school might see will likely be offset by other field exams, such as the online RPTE II.

Half of a school's geometry and biology students or up to 300 are required to take the online end-of-course field tests. All students identified as having limited English language skills will have to take the RPTE II.

In addition, all students in grades 4, 7, 9, 10 and 11 who will take the TAKS exam in the spring must take the field tests.

Educators say field tests, which are just as lengthy as the real TAKS, are a burden on already-stressed students.

"There just seems to be so much time pressure involved, where you know you have to work to get students ready for the TAKS test and to cover the curriculum as we're prescribed to do," said Janie Love, a geometry and calculus teacher at Warren High School in Northside.

But Chandler is emphatic about the importance of field testing. Agency officials have consulted national testing experts, she said, who assure them the sample size they are aiming for this year is necessary for solid results and for a strong case should the state ever become the subject of a test-related lawsuit.

Northside Superintendent John Folks said some students don't take the field tests seriously because they know the exams don't count. And Jessica Johnston's experience at Churchill High School in the North East district raises questions about the local TAKS benchmark tests.

"We take a lot of practice TAKS tests," said Johnston, a junior. "I think that one of them is good enough. Not five of them."

— Michelle M. Martinez
San Antonio Express-News


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