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Analysis of 2003 Released TAKS Reading Tests

Susan Notes: Question: What you get when 13 experts, one coordinator, a superintendent, and a board of trustees analyze the TAKS?

Answer: 250 pages of hot air.

Here is the claim from the analyzers:

Our team has analyzed every question on the 2003, 2004, and 2006 released tests so that you can easily see:

1. Detailed analysis of every TAKS items

2. Why are correct answers correct?

3. What kinds of distracters/incorrect answers were used? How did students think/compute that caused them to answer incorrectly?

4. What information will help teachers focus their instruction more specifically?

The 250-page document written by six Texas public school employees with titles like "director" after their names, travels under the name Analysis of 2003 Released TAKS Reading Tests. The work of seven other people with titles of director and "coordinator" is acknowledged in the production of this document This project also has a coordinator, so we can assume that 14 people were paid to work on it.

The Board of Trustees of Dallas County Schools and
Superintendent Rick Sorrells are acknowledged for "support."

What this team did was go through the entire TAKS reading test. They claim to offer "detailed analysis" of each item, what they actually do is label each correct answer. They say itâs analysis; I say itâs spinach, and I say to hell with it. I provide a brief sample of the 250 pages to make my case.

As this item shows, the Standardistos substitute labeling the TAKS Objective for analysis.

3rd Grade, April 2003 Released Test; Passage: âA Secret Place"

TAKS Objective: 3.5 (E) use knowledge of word order (syntax) and context to support word identification and confirm word meaning (1â"3).

Generic Analysis: Syntax/Context

32 In paragraph 13, which word helps the reader know what the word motionless means?

A suddenly
Does not support meaning with context/structural cues

B still
Correct Answer

C carefully
Does not support meaning with context/structural cues

D sweet
Does not support meaning with context/structural cues

Read paragraph 13 and note the fallacy of âcontext cluesâ when you donât already know the meaning of the word in question. If a young reader failed to note the small detail that the friends were already sitting on a blanket, then every answer but âsweetâ makes sense.
By using the words âstillâ and âcarefullyâ in the paragraph, test item writers deliberate confuse the issue. Something is being tested here, but it isnât reading comprehension. I wonât even get into the artificial quality of the word âstill.â If this item were written in the vernacular of third graders, then Carmen would have signaled her friends to be quiet.

Finally Carmen, Robin, and La Shonda were able to have their first Friends Forever meeting. Sitting on an old blanket, they looked around and talked about the leafy walls of their secret place. Suddenly Carmen signaled for her friends to be still. La Shonda and Robin sat motionless and listened carefully. They could hear a bird singing in a nearby tree. Its sweet song gave Carmen another idea

This same technique is used throughout the 250-page book, and 'confirming word meaning' seems to be a favorite objective.

3rd Grade, February, 2006, Passage: âTarantula Girlâ
Objective: 01 3.5 (E) use knowledge of word order (syntax) and context to support word identification and confirm word meaning (1-3).
Generic Analysis: Syntax/Context

5 Which words from paragraph 4 help the reader understand the meaning of delicate?

A still uncertain
Words in the passage, but do not related to the meaningâ"her parents were uncertain; the adjective delicate modifies the noun tarantula
B can easily be hurt
Correct Answer
C eat bugs
Words in the passage, but do not related to the meaningâ"
D live on the ground
Words in the passage, but do not related to the meaningâ"
Sixth most frequently missed item in the state:
Aâ"11%; Bâ"83%; Câ"3%; Dâ"3%

Since this was a frequently missed item, one can suppose that teachers will play special attention to the analysis. What a pity that âanalysisâ in the minds of Texas bureaucrats just means indicating the correct answer.

If one wanted to grant the major premise that teachers can learn something from going over student responses to old tests, then it seems reasonable to ask how the information that the adjective "delicate" modifies the noun "tarantula," helps a teacher understand her student responses. The analyzers ignore the fact that in this case the adjective comes after the noun and is separated by several words from the noun, making the whole deal of textual analysis somewhat problematic for 8-year-olds.

In these days of rigorous standards are 8-year-olds told that when adjectives follow linking verbs, they're called predicate
adjectives? Are analyzers and Board of Trustee members told this?

Perhaps we cannot expect Standardisto experts to point out that this kind of test is not about comprehension at all but about testers throwing in items to confuse readers, to lead them astray from the right answer. Otherwise, why would test writers repeatedly put words from the text into the test wrong answers, words like can easily be hurt. and eat bugs and live on the ground?

Since her parents were still uncertain, Elizabeth told them more. She explained that tarantulas are actually very delicate. These spiders can easily be hurt and need special care. For example, tarantulas that usually live on the ground should not be kept in a tall cage, because a fall from a high place can kill them. Elizabeth also told her parents that tarantulas are helpful to humans because they eat bugs such as cockroaches.

Here is a full selection from the test. No author admits to having written it. Many early grade test passages are authorless. They don't pass muster as genuine reading material, only as test items.

Candy Casserole
A green pile of steamy broccoli sat on Joeâs plate. He poked it
gently with his fork. There wasnât even any cheese on it. The
baked chicken had some kind of orange stuff on it. âYuck! What is
this?â Joe grumbled. Next to that was a ball of rice with corn,
peas, and carrots in it. âMom canât possibly expect me to eat
broccoli, corn, peas, and carrots all in one dinner!â
Then Joe saw a shadow fall across his plate. He looked up and
saw a very angry Mom. He managed a weak smile. âI just donât
really likeâ"â he began.
âReal food?â his mother interrupted.
âWhy canât kids just eat candy?â Joe asked.
âYou canât eat candy all the time. Itâs very unhealthy. All those
sweets will make your stomach hurt!â Mom exclaimed.
Joe thought for a few seconds and said, âHow can something
that tastes so good be bad for you? Let me fix my own dinner.â
âJoe, what am I going to do with you? Why do you always have
to learn things the hard way?â Mom asked, shaking her head. âI
have to prove everything to you. Fine, go fix your own dinner!â
Joe couldnât believe his luck. He dashed to the kitchen before
his mother could change her mind. He had an idea for a meal
unlike any Mom would ever make.
In the cabinets Joe found a big bowl and filled it with crunchy
cereal. Then he added chocolate chips. He carefully climbed the
stepladder to reach where Mom kept all the candy for holidays
and birthday parties. He would show Mom just how good candy
could be for a kid.
Joe pulled out the chocolate bars and the peanut butter cups.
He broke them into bite-size pieces and dropped them into the
bowl of cereal. He grabbed a wooden spoon and mixed together the
cereal, chocolate chips, and candy pieces to make his dinner. Then
he poured milk over the entire recipe. He would call it candy
casserole. âThis is going to be great!â he exclaimed as he took his
huge bowl and giant spoon out to the dining room.
When Joe returned to the table, the broccoli was still there and
smelled terrible. The orange stuff on the chicken was as hard as a
turtleâs shell. He looked at his own dinner in the n the big bowl and
grinned from ear to ear.
Joeâs first bite was heavenly. It was crunchy and had a perfect
chocolate taste. Maybe he would write a cookbook just for kids
who hated broccoli and orange chicken. As Joe sat eating his
candy casserole, his little brother Sam peered into the bowl. âWant
a bite?â Joe asked proudly.
Sam shook his head fiercely. He liked broccoli. He must have
liked the orange chicken and the vegetable rice, too, because his
plate was clean. Mom set a piece of chocolate cake on the table in
front of Sam. âJoe, youâre welcome to have some cake, too, if you
finish all your dinner,â Mom offered.
âThanks, Mom,â Joe said. âI would love some.â
After a few more bites of the candy casserole, Joe felt his
stomach rumble. âI guess I was hungrier than I thought,â he said
to himself. He continued to eat more, and the rumble in his
stomach turned into a roar. âMaybe just looking at that broccoli
makes me sick!â
By the time Joe could see the bottom of the bowl, he felt awful.
He stirred his dinner with the giant spoon and tried to take
another bite. His mouth began to tingle, and his throat felt tight.
The sounds coming from his stomach were getting louder. Now he
was really feeling sick, and that piece of cake on his brotherâs
plate no longer looked appealing.
Joe looked around the room at his family. They looked as if
they felt fine. Their broccoli hadnât made them feel bad. Mom was
quietly watching Joe. âAre you O.K.?â she asked. âYou donât look
Joe held his stomach and said, âI think Iâm going to go lie down
for a while.â As he walked out of the dining room, he decided that
it would be a long time before he made dinner for himself again.

25 How does Joe change by the end of
the selection?

a) He understands that he canât
eat candy for dinner.

b) He thinks that his brother
should eat a candy dinner with

c) He decides that chicken and
broccoli are his favorite foods.

d) He believes that candy casserole
is better than chocolate cake.

26 Paragraphs 9 and 10 are mainly
about â"

a) Joeâs favorite kind of cereal

b) how Joe makes his own meal

c) the hidden candy Joe finds

d) how hungry Joe really is

27 Which is the best summary of this
Try this. Try keeping all the details straight, remembering which passage has different details, and which has more details. And then figuring it out why it matters.

Consider what a vision of reading this is.

a) Joe goes to the kitchen and
mixes his favorite foods
together. He takes his special
casserole back to the table and
begins to eat happily. He does
not understand why he canât eat
only candy. He thinks itâs great.

b) Joe sits down to dinner and sees
chicken and broccoli on his
plate. He complains about
having to eat this kind of food.
His mother tells him that he can
fix his own meal, and he does.

c) Joe does not like the food his
mother fixes for dinner. His
mother allows him to fix his own
meal. Joe makes a casserole
with candy and finds out that
eating too much candy makes
him sick.

d) Joe and his brother are very
different. Joe does not like
chicken and broccoli at all, but
his brother loves them. While
his brother eats the meal Mom
cooked, Joe makes his own

28 Why doesnât Joe eat cake for dessert?

a) He is too full for dessert.

b) His brother eats his piece.

c) His mother doesnât offer him

d) He is feeling sick after his meal.

29 This selection was most likely written
to â"

a) teach young people how to cook

b) tell about a boy who learns a

c) make people want to eat broccoli

d) show how to make a candy

30 What does the word âunhealthyâ mean
in paragraph 5?

a) Bad-tasting

b) Not good for a person

c) Worse than before

d) Without hunger

31 When Joe first begins to feel sick, he
blames it on â"

a) the cake

b) the casserole

c) the broccoli

d) the chicken

32 At the end of the selection, the reader
can tell that Sam is probably â"

a) wishing Joe would make supper
for the whole family

b) upset with Mom for not letting
him have candy for supper, too

c) wishing he could make his own
supper like Joe

d) glad he ate his dinner instead of

33 The reader can tell that Joeâs mother
allows him to fix his own meal
because she â"

a) is too tired to cook another meal

b) knows that the broccoli is
making him sick

c) always lets Joe do what he
wants since heâs the oldest

d) wants him to learn that eating
only candy is a bad idea

34 Which word in paragraph 10 means
about the same as âhuge?

a) giant

b) great

c) entire

d) wooden

35 Joe decides not to make dinner for
himself again for a long time because
he â"

a) doesnât feel well after eating his

b) wants to save his recipe for
special treats

c) believes cooking is too much

d) thinks he has hurt his motherâs

36 Why is Mom angry at the beginning of
the selection?

a) Joe has ruined his supper by
eating too much candy.

b) Joe wants to put cheese on his

c) Joe doesnât want to eat the meal
she made.

d) Joe has eaten his food before the
rest of the family sits down.

So many questions for so small a piece.

3rd Grade, April, 2006, Passage: Candy Casserole

Objective: 01 3.7 (B) read from a variety of genres [for pleasure and] to acquire information [from both print and electronic sources] (2-3).
Generic Analysis: Readâ¦to acquire information

31 When Joe first begins to feel sick, he blames it on â"

A the cake
Information from the passage, completely or partially accurate, but not responsive to the question

B the casserole
Information from the passage, completely or partially accurate, but not responsive to the questionâ"the casserole did make him sick, but he blamed it on the broccoli (students may have misread the question as âWhat was the reason Joe became sick?â instead of what Joe blamed his sickness on)

C the broccoli
Correct Answer

D the chicken
Information from the passage, completely or partially accurate, but not responsive to the question

Second most frequently missed item in the state:
Aâ"18%; Bâ"31%; Câ"43%; Dâ"8%

Here we have one of the rare paltry attempts at actual analysis. Since itâs the second most frequently missed item in the state, clearly students were confused by the question. Maybe the analysis crew should have tried doing what Clifford Hill and Eric Larsen do in Children and Reading Tests. Using methods of discourse analysis, the authors examine children's responses to reading tests. They talk to children about why they chose the answers they did, and in so doing, convince the reader that children have very good reasons for their âwrongâ answers.

We have the problem of the use of the old-fashioned word âcasserole,â which is a stumper for many Texas third graders. Then thereâs the word âbroccoli.â How many kids deciphered that one? How might children's scores have increased had âpeasâ been used instead of âbroccoli?â

I was a very literal reader as a child and remain a literal reader as an adult. I was distracted by the very idea of a household that keeps candy bars and such hidden on a shelf for future birthdays. In my house, candy gets eaten.

Hereâs another authorless story written for the interrogation of third graders.

Tenali Fools the Thieves
Long ago a man named Tenali lived on a farm near a village in India. The land around Tenaliâs village was going through a drought. Very little rain had fallen in several months. Tenali feared that without rain the vegetables in his garden would die.

There was little water in Tenaliâs well. It took a great deal of work to get enough water from the well for the whole garden. Tenali was tired after pulling the bucket up from the well many times.
As he looked at the thirsty plants in his garden one morning, Tenali noticed three strangers watching him from a distance.

While he was in the village the day before, Tenali had heard that three men had been
stealing from people. His distrust was growing.
Tenali feared that these men were planning to
steal from him. Tenali thought of a plan to fool
the thieves and save his garden at the same time.
Tenali called loudly to his son, âSon, come
âYes, Father,â his son replied as he ran to
âI heard in the village yesterday that thieves have been stealing things from many people,â Tenali said in a loud voice.
âWhat can we do to protect ourselves?â his son asked.
Still speaking loudly, Tenali answered, âIt is not safe to keep our jewels in the house. Help me put them into a trunk. Then weâll lower the trunk down to the bottom of the well. It should be safe there. No thief would ever think to search the bottom of a well for a trunk full of treasure.â
Tenali was certain that the thieves had heard all he had said. He smiled and led his son inside the house.
Once inside the house, Tenali told his son of his plan to deceive the thieves. He asked his son to collect some large stones to place into the trunk to make it very heavy. Tenali knew the thieves would believe the trunk was filled with treasure. When the trunk was ready, Tenali and his son dragged it to the well, making a great noise as they moved along.
âNow the jewels should be safe from the thieves, my son!â Tenali shouted as he lowered the trunk into the well.
For the rest of the day, Tenali and his son worked in the garden. They dug small ditches between the rows of plants. Then they dug long ditches from the garden all the way to the well.
As the thieves watched, they thought this was their lucky day. They joked about how the man had led them right to his fortune.

They decided to wait in the forest until nightfall. Then they would get the treasure from the bottom of the well.
That night the thieves crept over to the well in Tenaliâs yard. One thief climbed into the well. He quickly realized that he couldnât reach the heavy trunk without removing some of the water first. One of the other thieves found the bucket beside the well but no rope. He gave the bucket to the man inside the well, who filled it with water and slowly handed it to the man waiting
beside the well. The thieves then took turns climbing into the well, filling the bucket, and climbing back out. Each time, they would dump the water beside the well. The water flowed through the little ditches that Tenali and his son had made and trickled into the garden.
By the time the thieves reached the trunk at the bottom of the well, the sun was rising. It took all three tired thieves to lift the heavy trunk from the bottom of the well. When they stepped out of the well, the surprised thieves found guards waiting to arrest them. Tenali had sent for the guards from the village the day before.
The story of the thieves quickly spread throughout the village. Everyone who heard the news praised Tenali for tricking the thieves and saving his garden.

1 Tenali can best be described as â"
a) clever




2 What happens right after Tenali and
his son fill the trunk with stones?

a) Tenali notices that three
strangers are watching them.

b)Tenali grows tired of pulling
water out of the well.

c)Tenali sees that his plants need

d)Tenali lowers the trunk into the

3 Where does this story take place?

a)In a dark forest

b)In a busy village

c)Near some village guards

d)On a farm in India

4 Tenali thinks that the three men
watching him are thieves because â"

a)he has heard about them in the

b)they stay off in the distance

c)he has seen them trying to steal
from his neighbor

d)they are trying to hide from him

5 What seems hard to believe in this

a)That Tenaliâs son would try to

b)That guards would arrest the

c)That vegetables would die
without rain

d)That a farmer would have a
trunk full of jewels

6 Which word from paragraph 12
means almost the same as fortune?





7 This question needs a diagram which cannot be displayed here.

8 Tenali worries about not having rain
because â"

a) the lakes will dry up

b) people will steal things

c) the plants in his garden will die

d) his treasure is hidden

9 Why does Tenali speak loudly when
he tells his son that he is going to put
jewels in the well?

a) He is afraid his son will not be
able to hear him.

b) He wants the thieves to hear

c) He hopes the guards will hear

d) He has to speak over the sound
of the water in the well.

10 The word âdeceivâ in paragraph 9
means to â"

a) forget about

b) fight

c) hide from

d) trick

11 How does Tenali probably feel after
the thieves are arrested?

a) Pleased that his plan worked so

b) Disappointed that his well is
completely dry

c) Surprised that the thieves
watered the garden

d) Angry that the thieves have
stolen from him

12 Which sentence from the story shows
that Tenaliâs son was worried about
the thieves?

a) âYes, Father,â his son replied as
he ran to Tenali.

b) âWhat can we do to protect
ourselves?â his son asked.

c) When the trunk was ready,
Tenali and his son dragged it to
the well, making a great noise as
they moved along.

d) For the rest of the day, Tenali
and his son worked in the

13 Why does Tenali tell his son about his

a) He needs his son to help him
fool the thieves.

b) He wants his son to speak
c) He hopes his son will agree that
the plan is a good one.

d) He wants his son to remember
where the trunk is.

3rd Grade, April, 2006, Passage: Tenali Fools the Thieves
Objective: 01 3.8 (D) demonstrate knowledge of synonyms, antonyms, and multi-meaning words [for example, by sorting, classifying, and identifying related words] (3).
Generic Analysis: Synonym

6 Which word from paragraph 12 means almost the same as fortune?

F well
Words in the passage, but do not a similar meaningâ"the fortune was in the well, but does not mean the same thing
Never mind the other meaning of âwell,â as in well being, good fortune.

G nightfall
Words in the passage, but do not a similar meaningâ"the thieves did wait until nightfall,, but that is not the meaning of fortune

H treasure
Correct Answer

J forest
Words in the passage, but do not have a similar meaningâ"the thieves did wait in the forest, but that is not the meaning of fortune
Third most frequently missed item in the state:
Fâ"14%; Gâ"29%; Hâ"44%; Jâ"13%

NOTE: High school reading passages on the TAKS do have authors. Read their names and weep. The following authors were complicit in abusing children on the TAKS in 2003.

John Edgar Wideman

Edward P. Jones

Carl Rowan

Nancy Mairs

Dennis Smith

Rick Bass

Nicholas Gage

M. E. Kerr

Naomi Shihab Nye

Gary Paulsen

Richard Peck

— Susan Ohanian
Smart Teaching Taks Materials


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