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What the TAKS Test Can Teach Us About Our Students
Unformatted Document Text:  distinct enough to where it does not seem that difficult to determine the proper answer as long as one carefully reads the question. The question about Miranda Warnings lists the components of the warnings and then asks students to select from four descriptions of what the warnings do. All a students needs to do is determine that the warnings protect the accused. Two options state that the warnings serve the interests of attorneys, or protect the rights of judges. The third states that the warnings are intended to ensure cooperation from suspects. All one need do to get the question right is to correctly read the warnings and understand that they are directed to a person accused of a crime (“used against you in a court of law”) and regards their rights from their accusers. The answer to the question can easily be inferred from a close reading of the question itself. Something similar is probably happening with the question involving the part of the Constitution which addresses the colonial grievance against the king’s making the “military independent of and superior to the civil power.” 91% of students answered this correctly, which may lead us to think that students are aware of the reasons why a civilian headed military is important. This is clearly a question about military power but only one option touches on military issues, the one which mentions the president’s role as commander in chief. The other three have nothing to do with the military: the impeachment of the vice president, the life time tenure of Supreme Court Justices, or the power of Congress to pass tax laws. All the question is measuring is the ability of the students to know what military power refers to, or what the title “commander in chief” means, or perhaps simply to know that “to command” probably refers to the military. The third question, which 88% of the student answered correctly, simply gave students a quote concerning the importance of freedom of thought and speech and asked them to state whether the quote pertained to the importance of knowing about laws, treaty making, impeachment, or the ability to discuss ideas. All one needed to know to answer correctly was that speech and discussion are synonymous terms. All three questions may tell us less about what students know than the fact they have some understanding of the meaning of certain terms. Given the poor results of the definitional questions above, we should at least be happy that they can use these terms, but that is not quite the same as their understanding of the concepts the terms refer to. 12

Authors: Jefferies, Kevin.
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distinct enough to where it does not seem that difficult to determine the proper answer as long as
one carefully reads the question.
The question about Miranda Warnings lists the components of the warnings and then asks
students to select from four descriptions of what the warnings do. All a students needs to do is
determine that the warnings protect the accused. Two options state that the warnings serve the
interests of attorneys, or protect the rights of judges. The third states that the warnings are
intended to ensure cooperation from suspects. All one need do to get the question right is to
correctly read the warnings and understand that they are directed to a person accused of a crime
(“used against you in a court of law”) and regards their rights from their accusers. The answer to
the question can easily be inferred from a close reading of the question itself. Something similar
is probably happening with the question involving the part of the Constitution which addresses
the colonial grievance against the king’s making the “military independent of and superior to the
civil power.” 91% of students answered this correctly, which may lead us to think that students
are aware of the reasons why a civilian headed military is important. This is clearly a question
about military power but only one option touches on military issues, the one which mentions the
president’s role as commander in chief. The other three have nothing to do with the military: the
impeachment of the vice president, the life time tenure of Supreme Court Justices, or the power
of Congress to pass tax laws. All the question is measuring is the ability of the students to know
what military power refers to, or what the title “commander in chief” means, or perhaps simply
to know that “to command” probably refers to the military.
The third question, which 88% of the student answered correctly, simply gave students a
quote concerning the importance of freedom of thought and speech and asked them to state
whether the quote pertained to the importance of knowing about laws, treaty making,
impeachment, or the ability to discuss ideas. All one needed to know to answer correctly was that
speech and discussion are synonymous terms. All three questions may tell us less about what
students know than the fact they have some understanding of the meaning of certain terms.
Given the poor results of the definitional questions above, we should at least be happy that they
can use these terms, but that is not quite the same as their understanding of the concepts the
terms refer to.
12


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