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April 12, 2001


I have been privileged to observe many outstanding programs and quality instruction as I have traveled around this great state these last few months. We have much to be proud of in Texas schools and yet we understand and continue to confront our many challenges. An important piece of our system is our series of assessments known as the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). In my travels and through letters, e-mails and phone calls, a concern has been brought to my attention concerning TAAS.

Specifically, some districts and campuses are apparently offering rewards to selected students based on their test scores. I have learned that these awards may consist of such things as cash, pizza parties, acknowledgment in school assemblies and local media, and other forms of recognition. I appreciate that such motivational efforts are based upon a genuine concern for students. However, such recognition efforts may unintentionally publicize the results of students who did not pass. My concern is that in trying to reward student successes, the detrimental effects on those who do not pass could be unacceptably high. The law requires that the test results be confidential for this very reason. Such activities may also create a "pressure-cooker" atmosphere that may be detrimental to students' well being and counterproductive to the educational process.

One aspect of the unnecessary pressure on students arises from the fallacy that all students require intensive drill specifically to "prepare" for TAAS. This is simply not the case. The TAAS tests are carefully constructed to be in line with the state-mandated curriculum, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Employing narrowly focused preparation strategies prior to TAAS testing is generally counterproductive. The most effective preparation for TAAS is instruction that is based on the TEKS and that provides students with multiple opportunities to read a variety of texts, write for a variety of purposes and audiences, and solve mathematical problems in a variety of real-world contexts. Challenging, creative activities can certainly be incorporated into such an instructional program, and students who are engaged in these types of activities will likely do well on TAAS. If teachers are successfully teaching the TEKS, there is no need for undue emphasis on "test preparation."

In addition, as part of a test preparation strategy, some districts have apparently been using the TEKS-Based TAAS Study Guides provided by the state as part of their regular classroom instructional activities. This is not the purpose for which the study guides were designed. These guides were developed in compliance with the Texas Education Code, Section 39.024(c). The law requires that these study guides be distributed to assist parents in providing assistance during the period that school is recessed for summer to students who do not perform satisfactorily on one or more parts of the TAAS. The study guides were not intended to be used as test preparation workbooks.

In conclusion, the continuing pattern of gains on TAAS for all student groups attests to the effort and dedication of district staff. As always, we recognize your hard work for the children of Texas. We also appreciate the thoughtful input of all campuses on the recent TAAS II Survey project. We will continue to work with educators to develop a new testing program that is not only aligned with the TEKS but that also clearly complements and reflects classroom instruction.

Sincerely yours,
Jim Nelson
Commissioner of Education

A MS Word Version of this letter is available for download.  


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