Quorum Report Article

The Quorum Report
Editor: Harvey Kronberg
Email: [email protected]
March 1, 2007      6:33 PM


New testing regime will provide greater rigor to high school curriculum, Shapiro says.

Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) made good on her promise to file legislation this session to put an end to the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exit-level exam, proposing to replace the high-stakes test with a dozen end-of-course exams.

No Child Left Behind requires states to test high school students in core subjects, although nothing in the federal legislation stipulates that students must pass those tests in order to graduate. Most states have chosen one of two routes to fulfill the federal requirement: either mandating the passage of a single comprehensive test in order to graduate high school or using a set of end-of-course exams that typically count toward a portion of the final grades in a pre-determined set of courses.

Shapiro, the chair of the Senate Public Education Committee, told reporters this morning that the TAKS test clearly had “outlived its welcome.” Texas will now follow the lead of a dozen other states in the South that have moved to the use of end-of-course exams, but Texas will be one of the few states that has added a high-stakes component to the tests, requiring a cumulative passing score in order to graduate high school.

“This bill ensures that no Texas student will take a course in name only,” Shapiro said. “It says that these exams will assess, with rigor, content that this student will learn in each of these courses, and the expectations that we have for these students to learn.”

Students on advanced diplomas will be required to take a dozen end-of-course tests to graduate: English I, II and II; Algebra I and II, plus Geometry; Biology, Chemistry and Physics; plus World Geography, World History and US History. Students would be required to have a cumulative score of 840 in order to graduate high school. And scores on the exams will count toward 15 percent of the overall grade in the course.

The bill also mandates an eighth-grade college readiness test, sets out state-funded pre-Scholastic Aptitude Tests (PSATs) in the tenth grade and adds additional security controls on state-mandated tests. Those security measures will include a statistical tool to ferret out cheating and criminal penalties to maintain the security of the system. If tests are given late in the year, however, it will be impossible to get cheating allegations back to the school before the end of the school year, which was the wish of the testing security task force appointed by Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley.

As Shapiro and others at her side – Sens. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), Kyle Janek (R-Houston) and Royce West (D-Dallas), plus House Public Education Chair Rep. Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands) – told the assembled reporters this morning, end-of-course exams have advantages over a single test. Content is measured closer to the time it is taught. The coverage of the tests is more complete than the one-time comprehensive test, which is often “a mile wide but an inch deep.” And results will be easier for the state to pinpoint where high school and college curriculum needs to be aligned more closely.

Groups such as the Southern Regional Education Board, which tracks education policy in 16 states including Texas, have long backed the use of end-of-course exams, considering them to be a better and more complete measurement of student achievement.

“We recommend end of course exams because they do a better job of measuring how well students have mastered the academic skills they need for college and careers,” spokesman Alan Richard said. “Too often, comprehensive graduation tests measure only low-level basic skills and don’t give schools or students many details about precisely the skills they need to improve. Many states have moved to end-of-course tests in recent years for this reason.”

How the transition will be made in Texas from a comprehensive test to end-of-course exams is still not completely clear. Adjustments in testing and accountability are typically done in tandem in Texas. Shapiro admitted this morning that she still had questions about how the new end-of-course tests would fit into the accountability system, although she expects the role of end-of-course exams would be substantially the same in the state’s accountability system as the TAKS test, with a few tweaks.

Assessments in the early grades also will have to be altered. To accommodate the new exams – including those middle school students who take high school math and will take high school end-of-course tests now – a social studies test will be added in the fifth grade, the science test will be shifted from fifth grade to fourth grade and writing assessments in the fourth and seventh grade will be integrated into the reading assessments in the fourth through eighth grade.

Shapiro did not have a figure for the cost of the end-of-course exams, pegging the number at possibly somewhere between $25 and $35 million. A lot of that will depend on whether a testing contractor will create new tests each year or whether a pool of testing questions will be used to generate different tests for each testing cycle.

Shapiro pushed hard to get end-of-course tests implemented within a year. Her stakeholders committee told her two years, which still appears to be a tight schedule for both creation and field-testing of the various exams. In Georgia, which recently attempted to shift from a single comprehensive test to end-of-course exams, the testing system is still in flux. Students in the state take both types of test, including the high-stakes exam. A number of those tests currently are in jeopardy because the state is overhauling its math curriculum, replacing traditional math with integrated math courses.

Copyright March 1, 2007 by Harvey Kronberg, www.quorumreport.com, All rights are reserved