Teachers begin instruction for all portions of the TAKS in August by administering benchmark tests that gives them immediate feedback about their students. With these results, the can make adjustments to their curriculum. “George West ISD has been hard at work since August 25, 2008 preparing students academically. Often times, observers think of cramming for a test, when in reality, education is a process that spans across a lifetime,” said Robin Sellman, director of educational services at GWISD.
“Three Rivers Elementary School has been using data to drive instruction from day one. Teachers use bi-weekly progress monitoring and periodic stamina building benchmark assessments to determine groups needing small group intervention. Teaching and support staff are expected to provide differentiated instruction based on scores. Technology enrichment is available to our high achieving students. School day help and extended day programs are required for students based on assessment data needs. The Boys and Girls Club has been a valuable partner in our after school efforts by providing transportation after tutoring sessions,” said Cindy Miller, Reading First coordinator at TR Elementary
“George West begins early in the year ensuring that students are learning the prescribed curriculum. Elements such as homework tutorials, one-on-one tutoring, creative lessons, benchmark testing, and old-fashioned hard work all contribute to educate a child. Teachers will work during lunch, planning periods, before and after school to help children,” Sellman said.
“I am preparing my 5th-grade math students for the TAKS math test by teaching the state-required material, the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills), benchmarking the material taught, analyzing the data from the benchmarks, and then re-teaching the areas of concern. This leads to more benchmarking, more data analysis, more re-teaching, etc., etc. This cycle continues until 100% success has been achieved or time runs out, whichever comes first. I focus on various problem-solving strategies that will enable the students to tackle any type of problem they are given. We offer small-group intervention during the school day and an after-school program for those students who are having difficulty mastering the skills needed for success,” said Carolyn Orsak, Three Rivers Elementary 5th-grade math teacher.
GW Principal Pat James knows firsthand what goes on in the classrooms. He is in classrooms daily and conferences with each student individually after benchmark tests and assessments. “Our teachers and instructional assistants know our students very well. They determine individual student strengths and weaknesses and develop student plans from there,” James said. “Our students accomplish what they do because of hard work . . . theirs and their teacher’s.”
When asked what his campus was doing to prepare for the TAKS, GW Elementary Principal Tommy Williams said, “The elementary school gives a total of eight basic TAKS tests (there are other assessments required for some students) in grades 4-6. The students are tested in reading, writing, science and mathematics. The difficulty is each test is given in three formats, regular, accommodated and modified, and students have to be placed accordingly. The difficulty is not the identification or the test; it is finding the personnel, and room availability to administer the exams.
“Our teachers begin their work year reviewing the data from the previous school year. This gives them ideas of strong and weak areas that are needed to focus on during the academic year. The teachers plan their benchmarks to coincide with objectives (TEKS) being taught. After the benchmark information is reviewed, adaptations are made to their instruction. The benchmarks give us information needed to determine students needing extra assistance, students needing acceleration or identification of students performing above and beyond expectations. A major key to success on the campus is the reading component in every subject. George West ISD students are avid readers and excel in that area daily, weekly and annually. Students are taught strategies to use in all academic areas to lead them to the correct answers, prove their answers or to assist them in finding their mistakes and learn from them.
“We believe that if you give students a good foundation following the TEKS, a TAKS test will take care of itself,” Williams summarized.
Sharon Robbins and Kim Morgan, 6th-8th-grade math teachers at Three Rivers Middle School, said the math department is implementing a “Twenty Days to TAKS” Curriculum. The curriculum was developed by Ernest Educational Concepts. “We are excited about the curriculum and have high expectations for the outcome of the program. The curriculum is an intense review to better prepare the students for the upcoming Math TAKS test. We plan on sending out letters to parents and guardians explaining the program and asking for their assistance in helping their child succeed,” said Robbins.
Many students dread the letters T-A-K-S, and students at George West Junior High are no different. Preparation for the state-mandated tests begins in the summer, when many teachers attend workshops and training sessions on how to raise scores. Data from previous years’ tests are analyzed and disaggregated in order to develop personalized plans for students who need to focus on specific objectives. Teachers are required to teach not only TAKS objectives, but TEKS as well. The outstanding teachers at GWISD focus on teaching the TEKS, knowing that if they meet the standards of those that the students will pass the TAKS tests,” said GW Junior High Principal Heather Lee.
“The most important aspect to doing well on the test is a positive attitude,” Lee said. “Teachers, coaches and administrators emphasize the power of positive thinking and let the students know they believe in them. By the time you are reading this, several students will have already taken a TAKS test and are busy moving toward mastery of the objectives of the next one,” Lee said in closing.
“The high school teachers have been working since the beginning of school to make sure our students are prepared and educated. As a high school campus, we have the last chance to make sure students are prepared for graduation. Our job is to ensure our students have the skills they need to continue life after high school. If we’ve done our job right, the test will fall into place,” GW High School Principal Jay Newberry said.
To help identify strengths and weaknesses for the students, the district has been using a relatively new tool, Data Management for Assessment and Curriculum (DMAC). Benchmark and TAKS testing data are entered into the program, and teachers and administrators can use data, graphs and charts to identify common problems and successes for a whole group or for individual students. Once a weak area is identified, teachers design lessons to reinforce that area. The DMAC tool provides immediate feedback and data are provided in a visual format to use in the diagnostic process. This technology serves as a useful tool so that teachers can make informed decisions about instruction in all areas. “We use DMAC to develop and improve the quality of education provided to students,” Sellman said.
High school students have had the opportunity for homework tutorials, TAKS tutorials, TAKS classes in addition to traditional classroom instruction. “I’m proud of our students and I’m proud of our teachers. They all have been working hard, but our hard work will not quit after TAKS,” Newberry continued.
Even teachers who teach elective courses (such as Family and Consumer Science), like Jacqueline Coquat at TRHS, help prepare students for TAKS. “I have my students do a daily exercise that teaches TAKS concepts. It is called ‘Family Consumer Sciences Across the Curriculum’ from a DVD that relates my content area in the area of reading, math, science and social studies. It is a valuable tool in teaching my content area, as well as helping students prepare for TAKS related questions,” said Coquat.
A common misunderstanding is that schools “teach to a test”. Yet, in actuality the State of Texas tells schools what they are to teach using standards called Texas Essentials Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The TEKS are the prescribed elements to be taught for each course. The TAKS was created after the TEKS were written and implemented. The TAKS measure what is supposed to be taught and is a measurement of how well students are learning the prescribed curriculum.
Teachers, administrators and staff members also believe, as a district, that the priority for all students is to establish a relationship with them. Teachers and administrators follow Flip Flippen’s philosophy: “If you have a child’s heart, you have his head.” Until a child knows a teacher loves and cares about them, that child is not likely to work for that teacher, Sellman said.
“Lastly, we offer ‘extras.’ We have a wonderful staff and younger group of students in grades K-2 who provide words of encouragement and ‘goodies’ to our 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-graders. Staff members all take an interest in student achievement. Students needing extra attention or support are certain to find a willing heart and generous spirit on campus. It is not unusual on our campus to find teachers from different grade levels or administrators tutoring students for TAKS,” Miller said.
Incentives, such as a bowling trip or roller skating, are offered for campus-wide success. “I also do a lot of praying,” Orsak said.