A Texas company has devised an online test to help second-graders prepare for a new statewide exam that debuts in 2003, called the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS).

TAKS, which will be given in grades three through 11, replaces the 10-year-old Texas Assessment of Academic Skills test, or TAAS. Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Graves-Ratcliffe said the agency predicts a drop in the state’s test scores. “A huge number of our kids are acing the [TAAS] test. It’s not much of a challenge for them, so it’s time to ratchet it up,” she said.

Ken Blystone, a retired teacher who started Trinity Data Services in El Paso, is offering teachers a way to gauge their second-graders’ abilities with the free online test. Teaching professionals helped him devise the test, available at http://www.taas2taks.com, using the state-mandated curriculum as a backbone.

Blystone said 7,438 students—in cities including Houston, Dallas, Brownsville, Lubbock, Waco, and Waxahachie—signed on to take the first generation of the test through early February. Their results will help Blystone fine-tune the questions to ensure they measure the skills in the state-mandated curriculum.

He said he may repeat the experiment in May, also for free, to continue improving the test and to give teachers a measure of whether their pupils have improved. After that, he will charge for the service.

Teachers who are concerned about the possible decline in test scores say they appreciate the opportunity to learn more about their students’ strengths and weaknesses.