The Dallas Morning News reports that of the four major candidates for governor, only incumbent Rick Perry fully supports the current TAKS test. LINK
Teachers and students tired of the constant drills for annual standardized tests have some new allies in Texas this year – three of the main contenders for governor, who want to take some of the teeth out of the TAKS.
While Gov. Rick Perry remains a staunch defender of the high-stakes test taken each year by nearly 3 million Texas students, his main opponents in the governor's race want to de-emphasize the exam. One is ready to kill it outright. Right now, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills is used for everything from annually grading the performance of schools to deciding whether high school seniors get a diploma. Students in grades three and five must pass the exam to be promoted, and eighth-graders will soon have to as well.
And starting this year, thousands of teachers will qualify for bonuses of $3,000 to $10,000 under a new state incentive pay program if their students show sufficient improvement on the TAKS.
For good or bad, political scientist Jerry Polinard said, "Test scores are driving decisions being made in school districts." But parents are questioning whether the tests have resulted in any progress for schools, said Dr. Polinard, a professor at UT-Pan American.
A statewide survey conducted this year by leading Democratic and Republican pollsters and paid for by a teacher group showed that a solid majority of Texans – 56 percent – believe there is too much emphasis on testing in public schools. About 27 percent said the state has the right amount of testing, and 13 percent said there is not enough emphasis on exams.
The state's 300,000 teachers may be driven to vote on the issue as well, he said.
"This issue has strong appeal to public school teachers as a voting constituency," Dr. Polinard said. "Testing has been almost universally criticized by teachers, who say it restricts what they can do in the classroom and forces them to teach to the test."
Despite the test fatigue, there are limits to how much the state, or a governor, could change. The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that all states test their students annually. So not having a state exam would cost Texas billions in federal aid.
The only debate between the major candidates will be this Friday, October 6. It will be carried live by Belo-owned television stations in major Texas cities and on Belo's TxCN cable news channel. The debate will be made available to other television stations in non-Belo markets.