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Texas' alphabet-soup test standards explained

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Posted: Sunday, October 29, 2006 12:00 pm | Updated: 3:16 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Hillary S. Meeks

Killeen Daily Herald

Not every state has the same kind of testing Texas does, and with Killeen Independent School District having a transient student population because of military families stationed at nearby Fort Hood, TAKS and TEKS are often a mystery to parents such as Yvette Anderson.

"It has always been a challenge for us because the standards have been different in different areas," she said, explaining that her husband is in the military and her family moves often.

After attending an informative session at the school Tuesday about these two acronyms – which stand for Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, respectively – Laura Dungan walked away with clarification on an important part of her child's education.

"I didn't really understand the difference between the TAKS and the TEKS," said Dungan, mother of two Skipcha Elementary School students.

Acknowledging the confusion, Skipcha parent liaison Megan Costanza arranged for Paula Boales, Skipcha Elementary School campus instructional specialist, to illuminate parents with a short presentation. The only problem is, not all parents can make it to these sessions.

"I love that they have these sessions, but I wish more parents would come," Anderson said.

Teachers, school counselors and campus instructional specialists are always on hand to help parents with understanding Texas' standardized testing, Costanza said.

"Any time parents are involved in their kid's education, the kid benefits. And it's always a good thing when the school and the parents work together," Boales said.

She said many parents who are from Texas understand TAKS, but it is those who are new to the state who usually have the most questions.

What TAKS comes down to, Boales told her audience, is testing curriculum objectives, or TEKS, which are aligned with state and national standards. The Texas Education Agency has written in detail what each student must learn at each grade level for two categories of subjects: foundation subjects, which includes language arts, social studies, math and science; and enrichment subjects, which includes fine arts, physical education, health and technology.

Foundation subjects are tested at a state level, but it is optional for school districts to test enrichment subjects at a local level, Boales said.

In order to test students on these foundation subjects, the TEA has outlined specific subjects which are to be learned at each grade level, she said. The state has created objectives that build on each other in every grade; therefore, a fourth-grader could take TAKS and be tested on something taught in the first or second grade.

"Writing something like this, folks, is a mind-boggling experience. It's a huge undertaking to come up with something like this for every single subject," Boales told her audience.

Muffet Livaudais, communications director for TEA's student assessment division, had similar sentiments as she addressed an audience of educators at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center on Friday.

With mandates from the federal government in the No Child Left Behind Act, and various requirements coming out of Texas government, the TEA has been working around the clock to make sure it creates a test to keep all schools up to a certain standard of learning while appeasing government entities, Livaudais said.

"We have to run a system for 4.5 million kids, but also keep it student-friendly," she said, jokingly giving a perspective on what a big job that is by saying certain TEA committees are larger than the entire student population of Rhode Island.

Jeffery Kirk, an assistant professor at Tarleton State University-Central Texas, said he brought Livaudais to the Killeen community because he teaches a class "all about testing" and felt more explanation about where TAKS has been, and where it is going, was needed.

"We at the Texas Education Agency are not sitting up in Austin at 17th and Congress streets thinking up tests, we are trying to implement what Congress tells us to," Livaudais said.

She went on to explain the procedures used to guarantee the test stays at the same difficulty every year to ensure accuracy.

TAKS tests go through a rigorous process before actually being implemented. There are several levels each item has to pass through, from the scrutiny of educators to actually field testing students, before it will be included in the TAKS, Livaudais said.

"Sometimes we just throw things out if they don't work," she said.

From the hundreds of employees who are trained just to grade the written and open-ended portion of TAKS, to statistics, the entire operation is massive. It is a complex subject, but that is why counselors, administrators, campus instructional specialists and various other educators from KISD attended the Friday presentation.

They will, in turn, pass this information to teachers, who are ready and willing to answer parents' questions about a part of their child's education which sometimes dictates whether or not they will be promoted to the next grade, or even graduate from school.

Contact Hillary S. Meeks at hmeeks@kdhnews.com

BOX

Standardized testing started with the Texas Assessment of Basic Skills in 1979, which evolved into the Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills in 1984, then the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills in 1990, and most recently, TAKS in 2003.

The following is for an info box:

For general information about the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, go to:

www.tea.state.tx.us/assessment.html

To download TAKS tests released by the state, go to:

www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/resources/release/taks/index.html

For general information about the Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills go to:

www.tea.state.tx.us/teks

To access several links to information bout education in Texas, there is a special page just for military families. Go to:

www.tea.state.tx.us/mil

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