Naked City

Putting Parents to the (TAKS) Test

Denise Manning is going to be the first black woman president of the United States. Or, if someone else gets there first, the eighth-grader will be the best black woman president of the United States. But first, the Fulmore Middle School student has to pass all her state-required TAKS tests, a goal to which Austin ISD devotes a significant amount of resources in terms of test prep and practice tests. Manning, who attends Fulmore's magnet school, says she could do with less.

"It's just not that appealing after the 27th time," she said with a shrug, her sparkly hot pink earrings jangling.

The question of how much test prep is too much is one that nearly any AISD parent – plus Manning and her friends – are currently willing to debate. Nevertheless, many AISD students do fail to pass their tests, which puts their schools at risk for being shut down or taken over by the state. So, school leaders are racking their brains for creative ways to improve scores, and the Fulmore "mock TAKS" test, which drew Manning and her father to the Fulmore cafeteria Tuesday night, is one of them. Along with other Fulmore parents, the elder Manning was going to take a practice TAKS, and Denise knew exactly what she and her friends would be doing while he did.

"We'll be over in there behind that window, laughing at them," she said.

The event was co-sponsored by the Housing Authority of the city of Austin, which sees parental involvement as key to its dropout prevention program. The idea is that reminding parents what it's like to open a test booklet and stare at a page of fractions, right triangles, and reading comprehension questions will inspire them to get more involved in their children's study habits. So, as the band finished chugging through a jaunty version of "Peter Gunn" and parents finished their pizza dinners, principal Dixie Binford introduced the test.

"It's not the big, bad test that everyone talks about," she said. "It's a doable test, and students can succeed at it – with your help."

Sasha Campbell, whose son is a seventh grader, said she found the exercise surprisingly helpful, despite the fact that "it's been a long time since I did this stuff."

"Before, I didn't have any idea what he was doing," she said. "Now I know what to work with him on."

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Denise Manning, Dixie Binford, Fulmore Middle School, Housing Authority of the City of Austin, Sasha Campbell, TAKS

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