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Tests Tax Students BY CYNTHIA GREENWOOD ill ILLIAN WOODARD WAS HOME from Southwest Texas State University this summer, attempting to register for summer classes at Wharton County Junior College’s campus in her hometown of Sugar Land. She stood and filled out application forms until she made her way past two registration clerks who checked her transcripts and directed her to another long line behind the registrar. After an hour’s wait, the registrar took her application, then slowly perused her folder of test scores and transcripts as he found one ingredient missing. Although she had 53 college hours listed on her transcript and would be classified as a junior in the following year, Woodard couldn’t be admitted to a junior college in Texas because she didn’t have proof of having passed the Texas Academic Skills Program. After an hour of waiting, she and her mother returned home, where they hoped to find the two-year-old test scores. Traditionally, college-bound students in Texas have set their sights on two goals: good grades and high scores on the Scholastic aptitude tests. But in 1989 the Legislature changed the rules in the game of college testing and placement. It passed a law requiring all prospective college freshmen to take a test of 12th-grade-level reading, writing and math skills. The test would help schools isolate those who needed to brush up on the basics before taking courses that would apply toward a degree. The era of the Texas Academic Skills Program TASP had begun. In the beginning, educators saluted the state’s effort to improve college standards. There was no question that too many students , were graduating from Texas high schools illequipped for college. After four years of TASP testing, however, many students and taxpayers complain that the hassle and expense created by the TASP bureaucracy makes little sense. “TASP has become a barrier to entering college, rather than a benefit to those it was designed to help,” says Stanton C. Calvert, executive director of the Texas Public Community/Junior College Association. Beginning this fall, all Texas freshmen at public colleges must take the five-hour TASP before completing nine hours. Peggy Lambert recalls how her son grumbled at having to pay $40 to Cynthia Greenwood is an instructor of English at Wharton Junior College. take a basic skills test after being accepted to the University of Texas with a near-perfect SAT score and high grade point average. While working at Kingwood College, where she teaches history, Lambert saw one mother try to sign up her daughter, a junior from an Eastern university, for two American history classes. “The daughter couldn’t sign up for both sections of U.S. history because she hadn’t taken the TASP test. That mother looked at me and said `This is idiotic. She’s a good student with a good grade point average.”‘ Lambert says. Many teachers wonder why the Higher Education Coordinating Board did not opt to use a college entrance test, such as the SAT or ACT, to identify students in need of remedial help. Colleges use those test scores to screen applicants for admission, and some use the scores to place students in appropriate math and English courses. But those tests measure general aptitude, according to TASP officials, not the skills a student has acquired in school. So the tests were ruled out. In May, the Legislature passed a bill allowing exemptions from TASP for students who score in the 80th percentile on the ACT or SAT college admission exams. In implementing the bill, the Coordinating Board in July voted to exempt students who scored : 1,200 or higher on the SAT, with scores of at least 550 on verbal and math sections of the exam; 29 or higher on the ACT, with minimum scores on the English and math sections of 27 in each; or 1,800 or better on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. “That bill will primarily benefit UT and A&M,” said Albert Barnes, a Wharton College registrar. Since the state’s two richest schools have the lowest failure rates on the TASP test less than 6 percent of all UT and Texas A&M students fail the test Barnes feels the new law will exempt very few students who attend two-year colleges. High school students become frustrated with TASP because the state tests them every year while they are in public school, then requires them to pay to take a test that appears to be identical to their high school exit exam. “There wasn’t all that much difference between the TAAS \(Texas Assessment of Academic who took the TASP test after Texas A&M had accepted her with a 3.3 grade point average out of a possible 4.0 and a combined SAT score of 1270 of a possible 1600. Other than those recently approved by the Coordinating Board, the state does not allow TASP exemptions to students transferring into Texas universities with credits from private or out-of-state universities. Elaine Iarroci recently moved to Kingwood, north of Houston, from Connecticut. She could not understand why her daughters, college sophomores from North Carolina State University and Fairfield University, would have to take a 12th-grade skills test. “If they were not in college, I could understand it. But if they’re already enrolled in another school and they’re maintaining a good grade point average, what’s the point?” But the Coordinating Board can only recognize Texas public college hours, TASP administrator Michael D. Brasel says. TASP is superfluous for students who want a simple computer class at a local community college, says Mary Ann Frazier, director of counseling at WCJC. ‘ They take the TASP, pass the English and they pass the reading, but they haven’t used algebra in years. So we have to tell them, ‘I’m sorry, but we have to put you in remedial algebra.’ Just to take a computer class.” The Coordinating Board is making some efforts, such as working with the National Evaluation System on the possibility of setting up a call-in system to report test scores. At the moment, schools have access to score reports but students must still pay to have reports sent by mail at a cost to students of $24. WIle TASP is supposed to set minimum standards for college, some students and teachers contend that the test is far too easy. “TASP was an insult to ‘my intelligence, basically,” said Bo Richardson, who has transferred from Baylor to the University of Houston. Richardson said the test covered material he had mastered in the ninth grade. Another student described the writing section as “stupid.” “It was something like ‘write about one time when you were happy or proud of your friends. Explain why you were.’ To get three paragraphs out of that was hard.” TASP writing committee members have responded to such complaints by beefing up the essay test and getting away from personal topics. “The new test is more in line with what would be required of an entering college freshman,” said Jocelyn Chadwick-Joshua, a TASP writing committee member. English instructors also complain about the writing test. “I’m not convinced that the test shows us that the student has minimum skills. I’d like to see more of an emphasis on critical thinking skills,” said Sharon Hendriksen, 12 SEPTEMBER 17, 1993