This is the week when all the public schools in Texas are taking the TAKS Tests. These are the standardized tests by which we as a society allegedly judged the success of our schools as well as of our students.
There is an almost constant din of complain that Texas public schools long ago abandoned the teaching of subjects in favor of “teaching to the test.” School district’s success and teacher’s jobs are tied topassing rates, so can school be expected to do otherwise?
I had long been an opponent of the “dumbing-down” that is caused by “teaching to a test.” This felt a bit ironic to me because I had always been fairly good at standardized tests. In a discussion on the topic a few years ago I was shocked into another perspective on the matter.
“The problem is not whether or not they are teaching to the test,” he pointed out, “the problem is the test.” He was right! If a standardized test is designed to measure success or accomplishment that translates beyond the sheets of multiple choice into a real world, then teaching to the test could actually be a good thing.
Whether or not the TAKS is a good measurement of the acquisition of knowledge or skills or of one’s ability to succeed in the world of employment and family raising, I do not know. I will accept, however, that teaching to the test can be a good thing if it is a good test.
I am left wandering between oppsing camps on this matter. Like the Nostaglists, I lament the de-personalization of standardized tests and “national standards.” But I am also postmodern enough that underlying the cries of the Nostalgists I hear “but we’ve never done it this way before.”
For me, that’s all the more reason to try something different.
My understanding of teh Texas system is that the TAKS tests exists to measure the success in achieving the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). The educrats identified with students on each level ought to be learning in each area. Makes sense to me. The TAKS then measures the degree to which these TEKS have been achieved. Obviously this is a dual object test – testing both the learning of the student and the teaching of the school. It is the inability to separate this duality of object that probably causes much of the heat. Obviously, some kids aren’t learning. From their point of view the easiest thing to do is blame the school. From the school’s point of view it’s easier to blame the student (didn’t do work), the parents (didn’t support the student), the culture (too much TV), and the government (not enough money). Personally I think the system is too complex for any of these simplistic explanations to go very far.