In a message dated 10/8/00 12:35:39 PM Central Daylight Time,
> For those of you living in Texas, what
> is your "take"? Is it all-incompassing, pulling kids from your elective
> programs, downplaying the arts, affecting your programs? Are the teachers
> being told to bring TAAS into their programs and taking over the curriculum
> of the core teachers? Do you see this as positive or intrusive? When you
> don't make the "grade", how devastating is it? I'm eager to hear what you
> have to say.
The Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) is a high stakes test
administered yearly to students in a variety of grade levels throughout the
state. Schools are rated (exemplary, recognized, acceptable, at risk) by how
well students perform on the test. Ultimately school districts are rated on
the same scale, making it mandatory that as many schools within the district
score as high as possible on the test. This puts pressure on everyone
starting with the superintendent right down to the student. Of course,
campus principals and teachers are caught in the mix as well.
There is a great deal of emphasis to exceed the previous year's scores.
Campuses that fall below their previous scores are scrutinized for problems,
principals are placed under additional pressure, and teachers are forced to
address the failures. I haven't seen the chanting at my school, but
occasionally on the local news we'll see schools having TAAS pep rallies and
This year we have some new rules, among them (1) that ESL students will only
be exempt from TAAS for the first 12 months that they are in the ESL program
and (2) third-grade students must pass the test to pass into fourth grade.
Of course, there are some good things about this assessment. The skills that
are tested are skills that kids should be accomplishing. It has always been
my mantra that if something is worth teaching that it is worth assessing. My
biggest concern about TAAS, however, is that kids are being taught to pass a
test rather than learning how to learn. In many instances they are even
taught "memory tricks" to trigger a correct response to certain questions.
I do not see TAAS as pulling down my subject area. I promote the visual arts
as accountable to learning and therefore use visual arts learning objectives
in correlation to learning objectives in other content areas. Being in a
school where 23 languages are spoken, the visual arts are highly valued.
Actually, I decided a year or so ago to use TAAS to my best advantage and
developed a TAAS formatted approach to investigating works of art. The
format looks similar to TAAS, but the written material is about an artist or
work of art and the questions relate directly to looking closely at and
interpreting artworks. This approach has proven itself to be highly
If we don't make the grade, there is hand slapping. The next year (I would
assume) if the grades don't improve that heads begin to roll or at least get
transferred. A few years ago I was working as a mentor in an at-risk school.
This school's TAAS scores were so low that the state was ready to come in
and take over. We worked with all sorts of approaches including Saturday
school, after school tutoring, one-on-one tutoring, and teaching through the
arts (to name a few things). Now the school is scoring in the acceptable to
recognized range. They have their sights set on exemplary. In a recent
article, the principal credits the arts as being one of the primary factors
that brought up their scores. Not a bad nod to the power of the visual arts.