en español: El Innovador de Texas
Texas Needs to Rethink Its Student Testing
When I was sworn in as Comptroller in 1999, I set 10 principles for this century; the first three were all education related. My priorities have not changed. My goal is crystal clear—I want Texas to have the most educated work force in the nation.
Nothing is more important than education. Our state’s future tax base and economic well-being depend directly on a highly educated work force.
I have been meeting with groups of teachers, principals, superintendents and educators from across the state for several years concerning testing. I believe we must fundamentally rethink the way we are using our tests to gauge the quality of education our children are receiving and are retaining.
Educators have shown me calendars where testing is eating away from 45 to as much as 80 days from the instructional calendar each year. According to Texas Education Agency officials, the student assessments contract for 2004-05 with Personal Educational Measurement, which included test processing and scoring for all of the statewide assessment programs, was $57.5 million.
This does not include the time spent by teachers, administrators and test coordinators at the local level, nor does it include the expenses incurred by TEA for its role in the testing process. The real cost for testing and retesting is conservatively in the $200 million range.
I believe in accountability, but I also believe we should carefully consider the purpose of the tests to begin with, and the results we are trying to achieve. I know from my own experience, and experts confirm, that you can pass a test by cramming for it the night before, but you probably won’t retain much of that information in the long-term.
Today, Texas students cram for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests. Then we test and wonder why Texas students are not performing better on college admission tests nationally (Texas ranks 49th nationally in verbal SAT scores and 46th in average math SAT scores), which require students to draw on retained information.
Texas should flip the TAKS test from the spring to the fall to make it a truly diagnostic test. Teachers will know up front where each child stands academically, and then teachers can spend the rest of the year doing what they do best—teaching—really teaching—so students can really learn and really retain.
I believe that what is most important is not how well any given school district performs compared with another school district, or this school compared with that school, because every district and every school has different demographics, but rather how each child progresses each year.
Carole Keeton Strayhorn,
Constable in a computer
When Travis County Constable Bruce Elfant put his office on the Web, he cut his phone traffic in half, freeing employees to focus on more complex service processing issues and skip tracing efforts.
Elfant’s Precinct 5 was getting 1,000 phone calls a month from attorneys, paralegals and their clients. By adding a Web site, <www.constable5.com>, the office moved many requests online. The site gets more than 5,000 hits a month, Elfant said.
“We found that 30 percent of our hits are either after hours or on weekends,” he said. “They are able to get real time information regarding the status of their cases. This is especially critical in family violence cases where victims need to know when protective orders are served so they can know how they should proceed.”
The site costs $17 a month to maintain. The precinct also managed to acquire all the necessary equipment and hardware for free.
For more information, contact Bruce Elfant, Travis County Constable,
Bambi goes bionic
Hunters looking to shoot deer illegally might want to think twice before firing on that serene-looking buck they spot from the road. It may not be what they think.
Wild game officials around the country are using robotic deer decoys to catch poachers in the act. The deer move their heads and tails and some even stomp one leg. Game wardens often set up the decoys in areas near roadways in an attempt to stop a particular kind of poaching, in which hunters shoot animals on private land from their cars. When a hunter shoots at a decoy, law enforcement officials can either arrest or fine the offender.
Deer hunters aren’t the only ones who should be on the lookout. Some decoy manufacturers, such as Wisconsin-based Custom Robotic Wildlife Inc., make animated decoys for a variety of animals, including deer, bears, elk, moose, coyotes, foxes, grouse, sheep, antelopes, turkeys and pheasants.
Decoys can cost more than $1,000, but organizations such as Corpus Christi-based Saltwater Fisheries Enhancement Association and the National Wild Turkey Federation often donate robotic decoys to game officials.
Solid under fire
Armor Holdings Inc. (AH) hopes to unveil the first “liquid armor” products by the end of 2006. The University of Delaware’s Center for Composite Materials spent five years developing liquid armor, formerly known by it’s developers as shear thickening fluid (STF).
STF contains nano-particles that remain loose and liquid-like when applied to ballistics fabrics—like military or law-enforcement body armor—but become rigid and resistant when punctured by an object such as a spike, knife or projectile. In tests, application to fabrics has not changed the look, feel or weight of the material, which broadens the appeal, according to Michael Fox, a spokesman for AH with Integrated Corporate Relations Inc.
“Forty percent of police officers don’t wear body armor today because it’s not that comfortable,” he said. “The more comfortable it is, the chance is there that they might start wearing it.”
Other applications for STF include helmets, vehicle armor, gloves and other materials for use in military circles as well as industrial safety.
For more information, contact Michael Fox,
Veggie lunch line
At Grady High School in Atlanta, Ga., students are lining up for their veggies at lunch—choosing vegetarian egg rolls, pizza and sloppy joes made with soy.
The high school opened the vegetarian lunch line in 2004 after Grady High senior Miriam Archibong, a member of the school’s vegetarian club, approached school officials with the idea. The school contracted with Sodexho Inc., a Maryland-based food service and facilities management company. Sodexho Executive Chef Joe DeBlasi created the menu with Miriam, which includes vegetable lo mein with spring rolls, veggie burgers, cheese ravioli marinara and spaghetti made with soy crumbles instead of meat.
“On any given day, 25 percent of the student body at Grady are eating at the vegetarian line,” said Bonnie Gordon, spokeswoman for Sodexho. “Many of the students aren’t vegetarians but like the choice of having additional options available to them. The program goes above and beyond serving common vegetarian items like salads to offering an array of nutritious entree selections.”
Schools in Eugene, Ore., also offer extensive vegetarian menus that include hummus with pita chips and tofu sloppy joes.
The Atlanta Public School System is expanding the vegetarian line to two other high schools, Gordon said.
For more information, contact Bonnie Gordon,
Eye on security
Securing schools against unauthorized visitors may be easier with a quick swipe of the eye, according to Phil Meara, superintendent of the Freehold Borough School District in New Jersey.
Adults who arrive at the school to pick up a child submit to an iris scan, and if the system recognizes the person as authorized to enter the school, the door unlocks. The security system also can tell when someone attempts to piggyback into the school behind an authorized person by setting off a siren and red flashing lights in the main office.
The New Jersey school system allows up to four authorized adults per student to register with the system.
The district is testing the system for the U.S. Department of Justice, which provided a $369,000 grant for two elementary schools and one middle school. As of January 2006, 300 adults had registered to use the voluntary program.
For more information, contact Phil Meara,
At-home cure for anthrax
Getting rid of deadly anthrax could be as easy as doing a little ironing. A Pittsburgh high school student used a science fair project to show that using a clothes iron on mail can kill anthrax-like spores inside—without damaging the contents of the envelope.
Marc Roberge, a 17-year-old senior at Central Catholic High School, will publish his findings in the June issue of the Journal of Medical Toxicology.
Roberge got the idea for his experiment after hearing his father suggest that high heat could kill anthrax. His father, Raymond, is a medical toxicologist for the U.S. Centers of Disease Control.
Since Roberge could not legally obtain anthrax for his science fair experiment, he instead used another kind of bacterial spore from the anthrax family that is more heat-resistant.
Roberge’s experiments found that an iron adjusted to 400 degrees Fahrenheit killed all the spores in the envelope if they were ironed for at least five minutes.
“When the anthrax attacks happened, I thought, ‘There’s got to be a way to stop this,’” Roberge said. “I just never thought it would be so easy.”
For more information, contact Richard Grzeskiewicz,
Country life gets hotter
Scientists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s Earth System Science Center have found an intriguing link between regional climate change and irrigation.
The effect resembles the more widely known phenomenon of urban “heat bubbles,” in which a city’s tarred building roofs and blacktop roads soak up solar energy during the day and release it at night, raising ambient temperatures considerably above those in less-populous areas.
Researchers have found that a similar phenomenon takes place when dry, light-colored soil is darkened by irrigation. The dampened soil absorbs heat and returns it to the atmosphere at night.
In an article in the Journal of Climate, the team documented that summer nighttime low temperatures in California’s Central Valley, one of the nation’s largest and most productive agricultural areas, rose by an average of 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit between 1910 and 2003, pacing the spread of irrigation.
Temperatures in the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains, by contrast, remained stable over the same period.
Another factor in the temperature rise is the increased humidity resulting from irrigation, the team said. Water vapor in the air can trap heat rising at night, holding it close to the ground.
For more information, contact John Christy,
University of Alabama in Huntsville, 256-961-7752
San Diego, Ca.-based inventor Michael Thomas is developing a new computer storage drive that could hold a whopping 1.2 petabytes of information—that’s just over a billion megabytes. His company expects to see prototypes within two to three years, with commercial sales beginning within four to five years at an anticipated initial price of about $750. The technology involved also may lead to ever-smaller electronic devices.
For more information, contact Michael E. Thomas,
Colossal Storage Corporation, 949-498-3600
Indiana high school students can procrastinate a little longer before requesting that their transcripts be sent to prospective colleges. Indiana’s e-Transcript Initiative enables 65,000 students in more than 500 schools to deliver their transcripts electronically, which cuts the amount of time it takes to process a transcript from weeks to days. A non-profit organization is picking up the tab for the electronic transfers, so it’s free for the schools and the students.
For more information, contact Ken Sauer,
Indiana Commission for Higher Education, 317-464-4400
Can’t find a leaky pipe in the wall? Scientists are on the case. Researchers from Imperial College in London and the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, are studying the way microscopic crystals interact with lasers to determine if they could make walls transparent. In trials, light became entwined with the material rather than absorbed, making the material appear transparent.
For more information, contact Chris Phillips,
Imperial College, <email@example.com>
Editor: Ann Holdsworth
Contributing to this issue: Angela Freeman, Magdalena Hamner, Karen Hudgins, Greg Mt.Joy, Edd Patton, Clint Shields, Suzanne Staton, Bruce Wright and Laura Zvonek