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Texas Senate Approves Bill To Halt Testing of 1st Graders

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The Texas Senate, accepting the argument that standardized tests are inappropriate for young children, has voted unanimously to abolish basic-skills testing for the state's 1st graders.

The measure, which is backed by a coalition of 44 education associations and the state board of education, would eliminate use of the Texas Educational Assessment of Minimal Skills in the 1st grade.

The bill was passed last month on a 32-to-0 vote in the Senate and awaits action in the House public-education committee.

The state currently tests students annually in grades 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 to measure skills in reading, mathematics, and writing. Texas' program is considered one of the most extensive statewide assessments in the country.

In order to allay fears that the program was narrowing the curriculum and causing teachers to "teach to the test," the Texas Education Agency last fall approved a proposal to test students on a broader range of skills, and to move the testing date from February to October. (See Education Week, March 29, 1989.)

The board at that time adopted resolutions asking the legislature to eliminate 1st-grade teams testing in 1990, or to authorize the development of an alternative "readiness inventory" if the testing requirement was maintained.

The board recommended eliminating formal testing partly because members believed that the October date was too soon to assess the skills of 1st graders, who "come to us with no formal education in many instances," said Keith Cruse, director of student assessment for the tea

'Too Young and Too Sweet'

But apart from the timing of the test, he said, "the 1st-grade test has had a rocky history in Texas."

"As in a number of states, there are a large number of persons here who feel 1st graders are too young and too sweet to be tested," said Mr. Cruse. Numerous representatives of education groups testified against the practice in public hearings, he said.

Mr. Cruse added, however that the t.e.a. was working with teachers and the Psychological Corporation, a San Antonio-based test publisher, to develop "screening" procedures that could be used by school districts to asst graders' development and8identify potential learning problems.

Brad C. Duggan, executive director of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association, said the Senate bill would not preclude districts from using such assessments. Rather, he said, it would eliminate "a state mandate of a single testing instrument."

"We want to work with the agency to develop the proper tools" to assess 1st graders, Mr. Duggan said. At the same time, he added, "we're trying to get away from a state-mandated battery."

"We need to get away from the mentality that there is a test out there that is applicable for all 1st graders," he said.

Mr. Duggan noted that the 44-member "school-finance sympo backed the Senate bill. Their concerns, he said, centered on "the pressure and tension on 1st-grade students of a paper-and-pencil test."

In recent months, similar concerns have led other states--including North Carolina, Arizona, and, most recently, Georgia--to scale back or eliminate standardized testing in the early grades.

As a result of "a lot of groundwork to convince legislators of the inappropriateness of a paper-and-pencil test," Mr. Duggan said, the Texas measure faces little opposition in the legislature.

While opponents of the test have been trying for several years to eliminate 1st-grade testing, Mr. Cruse said, "this year there's enough groundswell that I think they'll make it."

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