No school means not taking TAKS; Test will be waiting when students return after weather closings

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 25A

The weather has done what a million hopeful students could not: stop the TAKS test.

Temporarily, at least.

Tuesday was supposed to be the debut of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in Texas – and across much of the state, it was. But more than 100 North Texas school districts were shut down by the wintry weather, pushing the tests back to another day.

“Hopefully, the children will be resting and relaxing and be in a good position to take the test when they do come back,” said Connie Lewellen, principal of Weatherford Elementary in Plano.

In all, 1.3 million students in grades 4, 7, 9, 10 and 11 were supposed to take the first TAKS tests Tuesday. A Texas Education Agency representative said the state would not know for several days how much that number was lowered by school closings.

State policy states that schools that close on test day must give the TAKS on their first normal day back on campus, which for many schools in North Texas will be Thursday or later.

By Tuesday evening, many area school districts – including Dallas and Carrollton-Farmers Branch – were canceling Wednesday classes as the area braced for another wave of winter precipitation.

The test delay creates a host of issues for schools. Texas tests in a given subject have always been given at the same time on a single day so no students can benefit from advance knowledge of the test’s contents.

But the weather closings mean that thousands of students in other parts of the state have seen the questions and could share information with Dallas-area students.

Tuesday’s scheduled tests may be particularly vulnerable because they all feature a writing portion or essay questions – information that could easily be remembered and shared over the Internet.

“I don’t believe it’s going to be a problem,” said Larry Trejo, spokesman for the Ysleta school district in El Paso, where tests went off without a hitch Tuesday. “I don’t think many of our students are aware of what’s happened in other parts of the state today.”

Ron Dietel, assistant director of the California-based Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing, said other states have long given schools a window of time in which to administer a test, instead of one day. He said they’ve had minimal problems.

There may also be less pressure to cheat than in most years because test results this year won’t determine accountability ratings for schools or whether individual students will graduate.

Both of those high-stakes measures are being put on hold this year as Texas shifts to the new test.

At closed schools, TAKS test booklets and answer sheets are kept in secured areas to prevent anyone from sneaking a peek.

“Only the counselors and I have a key,” said Karen McDonald, principal of Clark High School in Plano.

Schools made the decision to close campuses based on student safety concerns, but for the first time there was also a complicating federal factor. The No Child Left Behind Act requires that schools have at least 95 percent of their students take the TAKS.

There are no exceptions for weather problems; if icy roads mean that 6 percent of students can’t show up for test day, a school is automatically judged as not having made “adequate yearly progress,” the term used in the new federal accountability system.

“We’ll assess the impact of weather problems, and if they’re significant, we could ask for special considerations” from federal officials, said Criss Cloudt, one of the main architects of the state’s adequate yearly progress plans.

Researchers and officials said the delay in testing probably won’t have a significant effect on student performance.

“I would not expect it to have a negative impact at all,” Ms. McDonald said. “Our kids can adjust to these sorts of things.”

Dr. Dietel said: “Generally speaking, the kids either know their content or they don’t. These other factors are usually not particularly relevant.”