• by Adela Solís, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • August 2002 •
The curtain is closing on Texas’ famous Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). The state’s accountability system has utilized this much-publicized standardized test since 1990. But beginning this year, a new test is being phased in.
The TAAS has the reputation, nationally, of being a challenging measure for many students. It assesses higher order thinking and problem solving ability in reading for students in grades three through eight, mathematics for grades three through eight, and writing for grades four and eight. The “exit” level TAAS, administered in grade 10, assesses reading, writing and mathematics.
Because it is an integral part of the state’s accountability system and is required for Texas high school graduation, the TAAS also has emerged as a classic symbol of the pressure and anxiety that high-stakes testing has generated not only in students but also in teachers, parents and entire communities.
In the year 2002, schools find themselves preparing for the enhanced accountability system represented by the Texas Assessment of knowledge and skills (TAKS), which is replacing the TAAS. Although there is much information from TEA about it, questions still abound about the test and its implications.
What Exactly is the TAKS?
The TAKS is the new accountability exam that replaces the TAAS, as mandated by the Texas Legislature in 1999. Development of the test began officially in 2000 and is nearing completion in 2002.
Field testing was conducted in spring 2002 with the writing section administered in January and February, and mathematics, reading, language arts, science, and social studies administered in April and May. Field tests are a tryout of the exam. The results will be used by the test developers to adjust for inappropriate and biased test items.
Initially this new test was referred to as TAAS II, but in June 2001, more than a year into its development, it acquired the name TAKS. To a large extent, the test is intended to be better aligned with the state’s content standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The TEKS were adopted as the state’s required curriculum (also known as content standards) in 1997 and are more extensive and tougher than their predecessor, the Texas Essential Elements.
What Academic Areas Will be Assessed in the TAKS?
This exam will assess the following academic areas:
- English reading in grades three through nine,
- English language arts in grades 10 and 11,
- Writing in grades four and seven,
- Math in grades three through 11,
- Science in grades five, 10 and 11, and
- Social studies in grades eight, 10 and 11.
The Spanish version of the test will assess:
- Reading in grades three through six,
- Writing in grade four,
- Math in grades three through six, and
- Science in grade five.
TAKS is different than the TAAS in that it will assess more content areas, specifically science and social studies, including at the exit level. Additionally, the objectives of the test are linked directly to the student expectations in the TEKS and are sequenced across the grades in ways that should enable students to be prepared for the content of the exit-level exam.
What is the Passing Standard for TAKS?
The passing standard for this new test will be set by the State Board of Education by November 2002. It is expected that the passing standard will be more stringent than TAAS.
A Texas Learning Index of 70 represents the passing standard for the TAAS now. For TAKS, one recommendation is for the board to consider setting multiple passing standards to differentiate levels of student performance, as is done in alternative assessment programs and by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which has four levels of performance ranging from “below” basic to “advanced.”
Is TAKS Tied to High School Graduation?
Consistent with current state policy, students must pass the TAKS in order to graduate from high school. The TAKS will be administered as a graduation requirement beginning spring 2004, although 11th grade students will have to take the exit level test in 2003 because it is required by the legislature.
According to TEA, this means that students in grades eight or below in January 1, 2001, will have to pass the TAKS in order to graduate. TAAS will remain the graduation requirement for students enrolled in grades nine or higher in January 1, 2001 (TEA, 2002).
What About TAKS and Grade Promotion and Retention?
Also in 1999, the Texas Legislature enacted legislation that ties grade promotion and retention to the TAKS. This statutory requirement, named the Student Success Initiative, mandates new passing requirements, meaning that students will be promoted or retained in grade based on test results.
These requirements are to be phased in. Beginning in the 2002-03 school year, for promotion, students must pass the reading test at grade three. Beginning in the 2004-05 school year, the reading and mathematics tests must be passed at grade five. Beginning in the 2007-08 school year, students must pass the reading and mathematics tests at grade eight.
As specified by these requirements, a student may advance to the next grade level once he or she passes these tests or by a unanimous decision of a grade placement committee stating that the student is likely to perform at grade level after accelerated instruction. Important information about the Student Success Initiative is accessible through the TEA web site (https://tea.texas.gov/)
Who Takes the TAKS?
All students will be required to take the TAKS in grades three through 11. The exemptions and procedures for assessment and additional (English) assessments for limited-English-proficient (LEP) and special education students that are in force today will remain.
However, as in the past, TEA will certainly authorize studies on the impact of the new assessments on these populations and make recommendations on how to expand or modify the assessment system to ensure that these students are able to meet the testing requirements.
For LEP students, information on assessments and exemptions can be found in a recently completed document entitled LPAC Decision-Making Process for the Texas Assessment Program (Grades 3-8) (TEA, 2001). This is accessible by downloading it from the TEA web site (https://tea.texas.gov/) or from the Bilingual Education Office at TEA (512-463-9734).
As TAKS takes center stage in the coming year, there will be continued challenges to Texans. Issues of equity, fairness, and objectivity in the assessment system will surely climb up the stage alongside the test. Hopefully, the commitment and optimism about student learning, which has also characterized the era of TAAS, will not only ascend but surpass all obstacles.
Texas Education Agency. LPAC Decision-Making Process for the Texas Assessment Program (Grades 3-8) (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, Student Assessment Division, 2001).
Texas Education Agency. A Standard-Setting Plan for the State Board of Education (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, Student Assessment Division, January 2002).
Adela Solís, Ph.D., is a senior education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at email@example.com.
[©2002, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 2002 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]