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Test Case, continued from page 29 ambitious plan to test kids in every grade every nine weeks so there will be no surprises come TAKS time in the spring. He suggests such test scores could be another criteria. While students will generally have three attempts to master the TAKS test, parents of grade-schoolers who fail can appeal the decision to a “grade placement committee” comprised of themselves, the principal, and the child’s teacher. Decisions to promote must be unanimous. It is highly unlikely that non-English-speaking, working immigrant parents will take advantage of this. For those who fail the high school test, there is no alternative but to repeat a grade. In the 2001 legislative session, State sored House Bill 2118 and House Bill 2570 calling for multiple criteria to be considered for all grade levels where the test is given. While the bills cleared the House with bipartisan support, they never got past the Senate, where the chairman of the education subcommitrefused to allow a vote. “What you would hear was that the word coming down from Washington was don’t make any changes,” recalls Olivo. Olivo is preparing to reintroduce her bill next session. The bill leaves it to school districts to determine what the multiple criteria should be. It is here that the conversation breaks down, says Just4Kids’ Brad Duggan, who supports the status quo. “Yes, we would like a lot of other measures; the question is just what are they?” he says. “Across the country there are very few additional measures because they are not objective or because they cannot be collected consistently.” Another opponent of Olivo’s legislation, remarkably enough, is Rene Lara, legislative director for the Texas Federation of Teachers. “This accountability system has many flaws but we shouldn’t be figuring out ways to undo it,” he argues. “You can’t do good portfolio assessment with [millions of kids]. It would require a lot more funding.” Those who favor the legislation are troubled by Lara’s position. “[Multiple criteria] is what teachers are supposed to dopay attention to the child,” says Ana Correa Yaliez, policy director for LULAC.”We seem to have more faith in the teachers than their lobbyists do.” Duggan admits that under the new system, “You do lose some of the spontaneity and fun.” He believes the trade off is worth it, but teachers are not so sure. The business model of education, where “kids” are “products,” might not be very healthy for either children or society. “It beats a child down,” believes Deborah Diffily. “It takes away a fascination for the subject and a love of learning. It takes away a wonderful curiosity children have. It supports memorization, not real thinking.” It also produces a class of students who will be perfect employees for a low-wage economy. They will lack training in critical thinking and be unprepared to find knowledge in the information age. It’s not a good recipe for a vibrant democracy “What we need to teach children is how to search through material and identify what’s best, what’s reliable,” continues Diffily. “It’s hard to come up with a question that tests critical thinking skills. It’s much easier to come up with a question that tests a fact. But writing the test that way isn’t doing what’s best for our children. It’s doing what’s best for the people writing the test.” As this year’s students begin school, opponents of Texas-style public education wonder if problems with the implementation of the new TAKS system will awaken people to its larger perils. “I think this year, with the reading test in third grade, it’s going to be especially bad,” contends Becky Mcadoo “I hope it’s bad enough that it will cause them to reconsider.” Observer intern Emily Pyle contributed to this story. Kenneth Koch, continued from page 31 Then I asked the students to look at the clock, think, and make their own poems, showing with each line what a particular person was doing right then: 9:43 a.m., November 8, 1989. A little stiff holding the pencil but with a surgeon’s steady eye, Angela wrote this hyper-realist poem. My elementary school poetry studies had been limited to dead Anglo-American and English poets, all those men drowning in their beards, but Kenneth Koch changed that too. He showed children Navajo songs, poems of the Dinka tribe, works by Leopold Senghor of Senegal, Mayakowsky, Gertrude Stein, and Po Chu-i. And of course, his books were packed with poetry ideas from contemporary writers, Imamu Amiri Baraka’s “Poem for Black Hearts” and Gary Snyder’s “Why Log Truck Drivers Rise Earlier Than Students of Zen.”The message was always, yes, poetry is marvelous, but not too marvelous to read and try yourself. Unfortunately, since the late 1980s NEA, the Texas Commission on the Arts, and other state arts councils, too, have pulled back from artists’ residencies in schools. Ricardo Hernandez, executive director of TCA, writes that “one of the key elements in the residencies at the time that Kenneth wrote his book was ‘flexibility’ Today’s school day/year does not allow for that in the same kind of way.” Hernandez reports that artist residencies make up only a tenth of TCA’s current arts education budget, but not even the formidable TAAS test can undo Koch’s revolution. At one time, it took a “poet” to get students writing. Teachers, the good ones, know how to do that now Along with his teaching guides, Kenneth Koch produced books of fiction, plays, and essays, and 15 collections of his own poetry. Future generations will decide whether his poems belong alongside Whitman’s and John Donne’s. Already, his “poetry ideas” have launched a thousand odes, ten thousand more sailing after themEliza’s “dress of apples” and Angela’s clean motel room. The best part of Koch’s legacy is being written in a classroom right now Julie Ardery lives and writes poems in Austin. 32 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 8/30102