The Washington Post

Major flaw in Texas’ standardized tests found

Researchers say they have found a design flaw with the standardized tests that Texas students must take for “accountability” purposes — and the implications could be important across the country.

According to studies done by Walter Stroup, an associate professor at University of Texas at Austin, and two other researchers, the design flaw in the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) assessments suggests the exams “are virtually useless at measuring the effects of classroom instruction,” this story in The New York Times says.


A Texas official who deals with assessments at the Texas Education Agency said that the agency would have to look into Stroup’s findings but believed he was operating under misunderstandings about test development.

Stroup, who is in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, doesn’t buy that argument. He was quoted by The Times as saying this: “I’d love if everyone could say, ‘You are wrong, everything’s fine,.’ But these are hundreds and hundreds of numbers that we’ve run now.”

What Stroup and his colleagues found was that the designers of the exams, Pearson, select questions based on a “ model that correlates students’ ability with the probability that they will get a question right,” the Times said.

The result is a test that doesn’t measure student learning, but is more effective in ranking students.

The Texas tests have been controversial for years for one reason or another. In fact, last year officials discarded what was called the Texas Projection Measure, a mathematical formula that allowed schools and districts to count students who flunked the TAKS test as having passed, if the formula showed they would be able to pass the test later on.

How a mathematical formula is supposed to be able to do that with great accuracy is a question begging an answer.

Texas has seen in recent months something of a revolt against high-stakes standardized tests. Hundreds of school districts have passed resolutions calling for an end to high-stakes testing, and even the former state schools commissioner criticized the reliance on these tests in school accountability.

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Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.


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