The following is from the July 20, 2008, edition of The Dallas Morning News. Patricia Mathes, director of SMU's Institute for Reading Research, provided expertise for this story.
By LAURIE FOX and HOLLY K. HACKER
The Dallas Morning News
Kids today are whizzes at text-messaging.
But when they're asked to craft a well-thought-out answer based on a short piece they've read, many are all thumbs.
A small part of the high school language arts TAKS tests has become a sinkhole for even the state's best students.
Three short-response questions require students to stretch their brains by generating clear, reasonable ideas from a reading selection.
Then they must support those ideas with evidence from the text in a well-written response.
It's a challenge that's vexing high school students and their teachers.
Students are passing the ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade language arts TAKS at higher rates than ever. Some even post near-perfect passing rates.
But on the short-response portion, fewer than half of North Texas students pass.
In Highland Park ISD, for example, every 11th-grader passed the overall language arts TAKS. But just less than half wrote satisfactory answers on the short-response portion.
The section trips up students across the state, from low-performing districts to high-achieving ones.
Some educators and testing experts say the low scores reveal a troubling lack of critical thinking and communication skills.
"Can your kids identify and state a main idea? If not, you need to teach them strategies to think through the text," said Patricia Mathes, director of Southern Methodist University's Institute for Reading Research in Dallas. "The real issue is not waiting until high school to teach these skills. If we teach our kids well, they will do well on these tests."
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