Three Strikes Over Texas

A few days ago, my son was being chased by a neighbor’s dog. Running as fast as he could, and periodically looking over his shoulder, he slammed into a pole. The impact caused the most gruesome swelling I’d ever seen on a person’s head or face. Usually when my son is injured, I keep my composure, reassuring him that everything will be OK. This time the injury was so startling that I literally gasped and cried out, “Oh no!” I took him inside the house and immediately called 911.

The paramedics arrived within a couple of minutes. They examined my son extensively, and determined that he was stable for the moment. As terrible as the injury appeared, there seemed to be no serious damage. As with all head injuries, though, there is a twenty-four hour window during which the injured party must be carefully observed for signs of more serious trauma. The paramedics gave me a list of instructions and warning signs, and advised me to keep my son home from school the following day – TAKS day!

Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), is the standardized testing used in Texas public schools. The tested subjects vary depending on grade level, as do the consequences for failing or not taking the test at all (although this has never been a concern for us; my son always performs exceptionally well, and has twice received perfect scores </shameless bragging>).

My son is in fifth grade, so he was required to take the Reading, Math and Science TAKS tests. This year is crucial because failing or missing the tests results in retention; students are not promoted to the next grade, regardless of how well they have performed throughout the year. Needless to say, we were both concerned.

After everything calmed down and my son was resting quietly, I went to the school district’s website to check the testing schedule. I remembered having seen something about retest dates, but never paid much attention since we never needed to reschedule. My heart sank as I came to the end of the school calendar and saw that there was no retest scheduled for the Science TAKS, which is the one he would miss the following day.

I emailed the principal of the school expressing my concern, and asked if there was anyway to get around this. I explained that being retained could be devastating to my son, and possibly have a permanent adverse effect on his attitude toward education. He has always been an honor student and is in the Gifted and Talented program. I worried that if he could be held back over a single absence that couldn’t possibly be avoided, he might feel as though it wasn’t worth the effort to try and do well.

The following morning, I received a call from the principal. She confirmed that there is no retesting for the Science TAKS. But she also informed me that my son would not be retained in the fifth grade because Science TAKS is not required for promotion! Fifth grade students must pass the Reading and Math TAKS tests in order to be promoted, but they don’t even have to show up for the Science TAKS.

Of course I was relieved to hear that my son would not be retained; I have serious misgivings about these tests to begin with. At the same time I found it disturbing; it’s symptomatic of Texas’s disdain for science.

For those of you not otherwise concerned with it, here is the current score:

Strike one: Texas thumbs its nose at science with the legal requirement that our schools promote abstinence-only “education”.

Strike two: Chris Comer, the director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency, was forced to resign after forwarding a short e-mail message announcing a presentation in Austin by Barbara Forrest. In her lecture, Forrest discusses the history of the intelligent design movement and the comprehensive rejections of its claims by the scientific community.

Strike three: Although Texas students are required to pass other TAKS tests to be promoted to the next grade level, their presence is not even required for the Science TAKS.

Science-hating religious fundamentalists are suffocating our children’s education in Texas. Sadly, this seems to be turning into a nationwide epidemic. Here are twenty-five ways to promote science education. They refer mostly to the teaching of evolution, but I think many of the principles can be applied to any assault on science.

Support the National Center for Science Education.

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