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- From: Carol Holst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Mon, 16 Jun 2003 13:52:33 -0500
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Agency tests moneymaking waters with TAKS
TEA may ask out-of-state users to pay for flagship test
Eagle-eyed visitors to the Texas Education Agency's Web site may have
noticed a recent change.
The state's standardized test is no longer just the TAKS. It's the
Trademarking its flagship test is the state's first step toward turning
it into a commodity, sellable to schools in other states. It cost
millions for Texas to develop the TAKS, or Texas Assessment of Knowledge
and Skills -- now it wants to recoup some of that money.
"We are taking a more aggressive approach to protecting our intellectual
property," said Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, an agency spokeswoman.
For several years, the agency has put old versions of TAKS and its
predecessor, the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, or TAAS, on its
Web site, where they're available for easy download. A teacher in
another state could simply print a copy of the TAAS and use it.
In December, Manuel Rodriguez, superintendent of public schools in
Roswell, N.M., did just that. He was looking for a new way to see how
his district's 9,300 students were performing. An Odessa native who used
to work in the Houston schools, Dr. Rodriguez was familiar with the
TAAS. So his schools downloaded tests from the TEA Web site and gave
them to students.
"We wanted an external benchmark to compare our kids against," he said.
But a Roswell resident tipped off TEA, which sent its lawyers after Dr.
Rodriguez. They told him he was violating the state's copyright. He
agreed not to give the TAAS again.
Dr. Rodriguez argued that he'd done nothing wrong, because the only
restriction listed on the TEA Web site when he visited it was a ban on
using the TAAS for "commercial purposes." But that changed when new
language went up on the site this month.
State policy still allows Texas public schools to use the TAKS and TAAS
without restriction. But private companies in Texas -- and anyone out of
state, public or private -- must get written approval from TEA before
using or republishing any portion of the tests. That approval "may
involve the payment of a licensing fee or a royalty fee," the Web site
TEA officials said the fees have not been set. Dealing with serious
budget cuts, TEA is happy to find whatever revenue it can. The state's
testing program -- developing, printing, distributing, grading -- costs
about $50 million a year.
The move may be unprecedented.
"This is the first time, to my knowledge, that a state with its own
custom-built assessment has decided to be a test vendor," said John
Olson, director of assessments for the Council of Chief State School
In one way, the timing couldn't be better for Texas. The No Child Left
Behind Act, signed into federal law last year, requires all 50 states to
give tests at seven grade levels in reading and math by 2006. Science
tests follow two years later.
Texas is one of the few states that already have all of those tests in
place. Other states are scrambling to write their own tests or buy them
from testing companies.
A tough sell?
But persuading an entire state to adopt the TAKS or TAAS -- and by
extension the Texas curriculum on which they're based -- could be
difficult. Most have their own state curriculum in place and are likely
build or buy tests that are closely aligned with what's taught in their
"States are very protective of their own curriculum and their own
standards," said Kathy Christie, a policy analyst for the Education
Commission of the States, a nonprofit policy group based in Denver.
"They don't want to say that our standards are the same as some other
states, even if they are pretty close."
Texas might have better luck with people such as Dr. Rodriguez --
superintendents, principals or even teachers looking for a diagnostic
test to see how students are doing. Almost all TAAS questions are
multiple-choice, which could make them quick to grade and attractive to
"Districts and schools and states use that sort of test all the time,"
Ms. Christie said. "Certainly, there's a huge market out there for
Texas has gone down this route before, with the Texas Primary Reading
Inventory. The early-literacy test is given to students in grades K-2,
and it has been acclaimed by researchers for identifying weaknesses in a
child's reading skills.
Not long after TEA built the test in 1997, it started getting requests
from schools around the country. At first, the test materials were sold
at cost. But sensing a potential market, officials raised the prices.
Now, a classroom's worth of TPRI materials is available for purchase
online for $225. It has generated more than $70,000 in profits for TEA
in the last two years.
"It's a hot property," Ms. Ratcliffe said.
Texas now actively markets the TPRI with ads in trade publications. Ms.
Ratcliffe said the agency didn't have any immediate plans to market TAKS
or TAAS similarly.
Dr. Rodriguez, the Roswell superintendent, said he wouldn't be willing
to pay to use the TAAS or TAKS in his schools. But he understands TEA's
"I wasn't disappointed," he said. "I'm a Texan at heart. They have all
rights to protect their properties."
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