I Do Not Support the TAAS
By Carol Holst

Springtime is almost here. After months of cold, nasty weather and short days, Texas children will finally have some time to go out and play with their friends, throw a ball for their puppies, examine caterpillars, and enjoy satisfying their natural curiosity about the world.Or will they? 

You see, somebody has decided that our teachers and schools are not good enough, therefore they must be held accountable. All children must be held accountable for what they learn, so they must be tested. And tested. And tested. And of course, they must work very hard at school and at home to prepare for this test. Scores on the state examination entitled the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) have risen significantly, so this approach must be working very well.Or is it? 

The accountability system in its current form has created a climate of fear for the children, suspicion for those who we entrust to educate them, and has opened the doors to discrimination against any child who does not meet the standard mandated by the state.

So TAAS scores are going up, and up, and up. More than ever before, schools have earned the coveted Recognized or Exemplary status. But what has been done in the classroom to achieve these results? Is there really a “Texas Miracle” in education?

Here is an excerpt from a mom’s letter ;

“I do not support the TAAS. It’s abusive and this is why I think so: In fourth grade my daughter came home for a solid month preparing for her writing. The assignment was to write an essay every single night for a solid month and here is a sample assignment for ONE night: 

How to Wash a Dog
Opening: What you need to wash your dog....5sentences 1st supporting paragraph: Washing the dog...15sentences. 2nd supporting paragraph: Finishing washing the dog...15 sentences.
3rd supporting paragraph: Drying the stinkingdog...15 sentences. 

Concluding paragraph: 5 sentences. 

My daughter was in tears for a SOLID MONTH.”

Teachers are often required to throw out their lesson plans and teach TAAS testing strategies. Never mind that the children haven’t learned about the United States Constitution or read the “Little House” series of books or had a hands-on science lesson in two months. The curriculum must be narrowed to what can be measured on a bubble-in sheet.

It seems clear that high-stakes testing is creating at least ten new problems to every solution it provides. All of our children are expected to reshape themselves to fit into a single narrow mold. Is this right? Obviously the answer is no, but should we expect the testing to just stop? It would be nice, but it’s not likely to happen for at least four years, so we have to insist on changes that could make the accountability system friendly to our kids and their teachers.

If we must test our kids, then we should use the scores for diagnostic purposes only. If we continue to reward or punish schools based on test results, the pressure on our children will get even worse and we will continue to lose excellent teachers. 

We should also stop making major decisions based on the outcome of one test. One test score is only a snapshot of what a child can do or learn. The requirement that students should pass a specific test to receive a high school diploma is unethical. It is also unethical to require children to pass a specific test to go on to the next grade. Even the testmakers agree this is not right, but it’s what the new policy on social promotion will require. This is very bad news for children and teachers.

Parents should be informed about test development and scoring procedures before allowing a child to participate in the accountability program. We should also be allowed to see our child’s answer sheets without having to go through state agencies or a school district dog-and-pony show. We have a right to know what kind of data is being collected on our kids, and why it’s being done. They go to school to get an education, not to provide information for Big Government, Big Business, or Big Brother.

Now, the Texas situation won’t improve right away just because we want it to. In fact, it’s going to get worse and spread to all of the other states unless we unite and make our voices heard. Standardized testing has a history of being used to sort, separate, and segregate people. Do we want to leave the door open for this to happen? Think about it. Latino people. People of African descent. Asian people. Native American people. People of different religious faiths. People with disabilities. People from low-income or single-parent families.Reducing a person’s identity to a test score is wrong and so is depriving children of the opportunity to hear songs in different languages, taste other foods,see different styles of dress, touch different fabrics, and learn about different ways to move or communicate. We cannot allow this to happen. Parents, it’s up to us. Grassroots action is what will stop the advance of test-centered curriculum in our schools.

There is a group of Texans called Parents United to Reform TAAS Testing. We started out in May 2000 with two moms who were introduced via e-mail and then decided to meet for lunch in Houston. Since then we have created a web page (www.taasblues.com), presented testimony at local and State Board of Education meetings, started an e-mail discussion group (taasblue@yahoogroups.com), and talked to many concerned parents, teachers, students, and reporters. Currently we do not require anyone to sign a piece of paper declaring his or her membership. The reason for this is that teachers are very likely to be considered insubordinate if they speak out and we do not want to get them into trouble. Hopefully this situation will change soon.

The new year has been exciting for us so far. We were invited to speak at the Latinos and Equity in Education forum, which took place at the University of Texas on January 26. The response from the audience was very encouraging. We also protested in Austin the following week. We began these two events with about 150 buttons stating “No Mas TAAS,” “Standards Schmandards,” and other appropriate slogans. We now have only a few buttons left, which are the ones we’ve kept for ourselves to wear in public.

Speaking of public, the library in my small town has also given us permission to start a reference section dedicated to our efforts to educate other parents. Grassroots people know that there is something strange about all of this accountability business, but many do not know the specific cause of their unease. If this statement describes your feelings concerning this issue, I urge you to contact the Center for Fair and Open Testing (www.fairtest.org) and find your state coordinator. S/he will be happy to help you in your efforts to learn about this threat to democratic, inclusive schooling. There is something we can do.

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