In this lesson, we'll examine the brief but tumultuous history of standardized testing in Texas. We'll cover how the tests have evolved, why Texas is so important in standardized testing, and how the state's policies have impacted the entire country.
History of Standardized Testing in Texas
You might be asking yourself why Texas is so important in the realm of standardized testing. Sure, it's big, it was briefly an independent country, and it's steeped in American mythology, but standardized testing?
There are two main reasons you should care about standardized testing in the Lone Star State. First, Texas had more than five million students as of 2014, which was second only to California's more than six million students. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Texas has a long history of implementing new and innovative educational policies. Frequently, as Texas goes, so goes the nation. Let's dive into the short but eventful history of standardized testing in Texas.
An all too frequent refrain in education is that students are graduating from high school with little in the way of tangible skills, and in 1979, the Texas State Legislature decided it was going to do something about this. The legislature decided that beginning in the 1980 school year, all schools would be required by law to test students on basic skills in third, fifth, and ninth grades. The test was dubbed the Texas Assessment of Basic Skills (TABS), and it assessed students' skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. Though students weren't required to achieve a passing grade on the TABS, if a ninth-grade student failed the test, he or she was required to retake it every year until passing the test or graduating.
In 1984, the legislature decided that the TABS wasn't rigorous enough, so it introduced the Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills (TEAMS). Aside from being a more appealing acronym, this standardized test occurred more frequently and had higher stakes. Students were tested every other year, beginning with first grade. If a student didn't meet minimum standards in 11th grade, he or she would be allowed to retake the exam in 12th grade. If the student still failed in 12th grade, he or she wasn't awarded a high school diploma, a first for standardized testing.
In 1991, the Texas State Legislature decided that what its students were lacking was pressure, so it decided to change from assessing basic skills to academic skills with the introduction of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). This test was essentially the same as TEAMS, but it had higher standards for a passing grade and was now first administered in third, rather than first, grade. Like TEAMS and TABS before it, the test focused on reading, writing, and mathematics, though students alternated which tests they took based on grade. In the continuing tradition of TEAMS, students were still required to pass the 11th grade TAAS exam to graduate from high school.
While the TAAS assessment continued to be the standard exam until 2003, in 2001, the legislature again decided to up the ante on students. The new test was dubbed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) and was far more rigorous than TAAS. Not only did it cover a greater number of subjects, adding social studies, science, and language arts to the traditional reading, writing, and mathematics, but the stakes for passing were raised. Unlike TAAS and the exams before it, TAKS had to be passed in third, fifth, and eighth grade to advance to the next grade. High school students were still required to pass the 11th grade exam to graduate.
The legislature didn't stop there, however, introducing the current exam in 2011. Called the State of Texas Assessment for Academic Readiness (STAAR), this standardized test is even more difficult and academically demanding than previous ones. Students take yearly exams starting in third grade, with differing subjects depending on their grade level.
While this is similar to the TAKS system, once a student hits high school, the system greatly departs from previous testing. High school freshmen are required to pass standardized end-of-year exams in algebra, biology, English, and U.S. history. The next year, students take exams in geometry, chemistry, English II, and world history. The pattern continues throughout their high school career, with each year ending on successively more advanced tests in mathematics, science, English, and social studies.
Of particular note, and controversy, has been the inclusion of performance on the STAAR exam in regular class grades. By law, schools can opt to make the STAAR exams count for 15% of a student's class grade.
Standardized testing has been subject to a great deal of criticism in recent history, with many educators, students, and parents making arguments about the value of such exams. Testing in Texas, by virtue of its role in leading the nation in standardized testing policy, has been particularly problematic. Many groups have sprung up to protest the State Board of Education and the Texas Education Agency for their strong reliance on standardized testing, particularly the high-stakes nature of linking these tests to grade advancement.
Likewise, when former Texas Governor George W. Bush ascended to the presidency, he brought many policies from Texas to the nation in the form of No Child Left Behind, a policy that saw its fair share of controversy.
Hopefully, you've learned a little something about how Texas educational policy has shaped the way we view standardized testing. The standardized tests grew in rigor and importance, beginning in 1980 with the Texas Assessment of Basic Skills. Quickly, the Texas State Legislature moved on to the Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills in 1984, then the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills in 1991. In 2003, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills became the norm, followed by the current standard of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. While standardized testing courts controversy, it has no doubt impacted the modern educational landscape.