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Austin-area Educators Offer TAKS Treats

Ohanian Comment:"The incentives appear to be working." Cattle prods would also work. What lesson do you suppose students take away from such antics?

Austin-area educators offer TAKS treats
Administrators try to lure students to meet federal requirement

Need tardies erased? What about absences? Maybe a pizza party or free tickets and a ride to your school's out-of-town basketball playoffs sound appealing.

Some Austin school officials, feeling pressure to meet a federal requirement that 95 percent of students show up for the state's standardized test, made big promises in recent weeks.

At Crockett High School, Principal Barbara Gideon promised to clear some absences and urged teachers to give students a grade of 100 in English class for the day.

"I think every principal in the United States, and especially Texas, is feeling very compelled to think out of the box to ensure that students do attend and take the test because it is part of the No Child Left Behind (Act)," said Rosalinda Hernandez, associate superintendent over high schools for the Austin district.

She said the district's high school principals launched campaigns to inform parents about the importance of the test. Their efforts included newsletters, phone calls and home visits.

Across the state Tuesday, students in fourth and seventh grades took the writing portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Freshmen took the reading portion, and 10th- and 11th-graders took the English language arts test. Students will take other portions in March and April.

Educators say test participation has become increasingly important because of No Child Left Behind, the education reform bill President Bush signed into law in 2002.

Under the law, schools must make "adequate yearly progress" or risk sanctions. One measure of progress is the percentage of students who take the state achievement test. Ninety-five percent of students in the third through eighth and 10th grades must take both the English language arts and math portions.

"It's a tremendous pressure on all of us to try to figure out how to do this," Gideon said.

The Texas Education Agency, under pressure from superintendents statewide, notified districts in November that students in some grades could make up tests to help reach the 95 percent goal. Today is the makeup day for high school students who missed Tuesday's 10th-grade language arts test.

In the Hays school district, educators exempt high-schoolers from one final exam if they take all sections of the TAKS, district spokeswoman Julie Crimmins said. In Del Valle, high school officials promised students that if they met the 95 percent attendance standard, they would get tickets and free transportation to this week's basketball playoffs in San Antonio.

The incentives appear to be working.

Kelly Crook, director of instruction and accountability in Del Valle, said the high school students achieved 98 percent attendance Tuesday. The school is also organizing student committees to come up with incentives for upcoming portions of the TAKS.

At Crockett, school officials offered to clear absences students had to make up before they could receive credit for a course. The absences will still be reported to the state, but students will not be penalized by losing course credit.

Gideon also urged teachers to give English students a daily grade of 100 because they spent about five hours taking the English language arts section.

"They've worked since August until now in their English classes," she said. "We won't know how they do on the test if they don't show up."

Hernandez declined to comment on whether that incentive violates a district policy that states that academic achievement "shall not be based on nor adjusted for nonacademic criteria, such as discipline, attendance, tardies or participation in extracurricular activities."

Crockett met the 95 percent attendance requirement Tuesday. The average daily attendance for all grades at Austin's high schools ranges from 83 percent to 94 percent, state data show.


— Michelle M. Martinez


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