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What the TAKS Test Can Teach Us About Our Students
Unformatted Document Text:  freedom of speech encourages a free exchange of ideas, that the bill making process involves checks and balances, and the advantage of democracy for individual liberty. They even demonstrated an awareness of historical events like the nullification crisis and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s attitude towards the 15 th Amendment. These results are similar to those observed by Niemi and Junn (1998). They find that students are knowledgeable about the “criminal and civil justice system and the general (noncriminal) rights of citizens” (p.27). Some of the questions students scored lowest on also concerned constitutional issues, but many concerned historical questions that might be easier to forget. Rights issue, as Niemi and Junn point out, touch on their individual rights, so there may be a greater, self interested, incentive to retain this information. This would not be the case for historical questions. These results correlate positively with performance in the classroom. Figure One shows a scatterplot with a student’s TAKS pretest performance on one axis and class test average on the other. The relationship is positive. Taken at face value, the TAKS questions seem to tell us that students have learned enough in K-12, certainly in constitutional matters, to succeed in college. If true we may wish to deemphasize coverage of the Constitution and proceed to a discussion of policymaking within a Constitutional context, but this didn’t seem like an appropriate assumption given the inability of previous students to answer basic definitional questions. Are the TAKS questions in fact telling us something substantive about student knowledge? Figure Two complicates the story because it shows the distribution of TAKS test results, but this time by student, not by question. The results are still positively skewed, but I also overlaid the TAKS results with student performance on test questions. This distribution is skewed further to the right. Students performed more poorly overall on class tests than on the TAKS pre test. This suggests that the TAKS results are overestimating student ability. Perhaps the TAKS pre-test tells us nothing about what students learned in the classroom. One question researchers like Niemi and Junn (1998), Nie, Junn and Stehlik-Barry (1996), and Macedo et al, (2005) have asked is to what degree knowledge is less a function of the classroom than of an individual’s environment, be it the family, peers or media exposure. Government is unique because it is discussed in the greater environment far more than other subjects. It may be that the TAKS test may be measuring knowledge learned from alternative sources. To test this, demographic information was collected from the students. We will only 10

Authors: Jefferies, Kevin.
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freedom of speech encourages a free exchange of ideas, that the bill making process involves
checks and balances, and the advantage of democracy for individual liberty. They even
demonstrated an awareness of historical events like the nullification crisis and Elizabeth Cady
Stanton’s attitude towards the 15
th
Amendment. These results are similar to those observed by
Niemi and Junn (1998). They find that students are knowledgeable about the “criminal and civil
justice system and the general (noncriminal) rights of citizens” (p.27). Some of the questions
students scored lowest on also concerned constitutional issues, but many concerned historical
questions that might be easier to forget. Rights issue, as Niemi and Junn point out, touch on their
individual rights, so there may be a greater, self interested, incentive to retain this information.
This would not be the case for historical questions.
These results correlate positively with performance in the classroom. Figure One shows a
scatterplot with a student’s TAKS pretest performance on one axis and class test average on the
other. The relationship is positive. Taken at face value, the TAKS questions seem to tell us that
students have learned enough in K-12, certainly in constitutional matters, to succeed in college.
If true we may wish to deemphasize coverage of the Constitution and proceed to a discussion of
policymaking within a Constitutional context, but this didn’t seem like an appropriate
assumption given the inability of previous students to answer basic definitional questions. Are
the TAKS questions in fact telling us something substantive about student knowledge? Figure
Two complicates the story because it shows the distribution of TAKS test results, but this time
by student, not by question. The results are still positively skewed, but I also overlaid the TAKS
results with student performance on test questions. This distribution is skewed further to the
right. Students performed more poorly overall on class tests than on the TAKS pre test. This
suggests that the TAKS results are overestimating student ability. Perhaps the TAKS pre-test
tells us nothing about what students learned in the classroom.
One question researchers like Niemi and Junn (1998), Nie, Junn and Stehlik-Barry
(1996), and Macedo et al, (2005) have asked is to what degree knowledge is less a function of
the classroom than of an individual’s environment, be it the family, peers or media exposure.
Government is unique because it is discussed in the greater environment far more than other
subjects. It may be that the TAKS test may be measuring knowledge learned from alternative
sources. To test this, demographic information was collected from the students. We will only
10


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