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Not a great start for the STAAR tests

Whatever we think about standardized tests, we’ll need to do better than this.

Thousands of Houston-area high school students failed the state’s new standardized exams and must retake them – or risk not graduating.

Preliminary test results released by several local districts Thursday reveal that ninth-graders struggled the most on the writing exam, indicating they are not prepared for college-level work.

In the Houston Independent School District, about 7,500 freshmen failed at least one of the end-of-course exams they took last spring. On the writing test, only 47 percent of HISD’s freshmen passed, early data show. Students can retake the exams as soon as July or later in high school.

“We will learn from this,” HISD’s chief academic officer, Alicia Thomas, told the school board Thursday. “The rigor in our classrooms will increase. It’s a challenge for HISD. It’s actually a challenge for all districts in Texas.”

The ninth-grade class from 2012 is the first affected by a state law requiring students to pass 15 end-of-course exams throughout high school to graduate. Under the former system, students had to pass four tests.

The new exams, called the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, were designed to be much harder than prior state tests, with more complex questions and a time limit.

You have to expect some struggles early on, with the test being more stringent and the schools being under a lot more stress from the budget cuts. The pass rates outside of English are actually not too bad, though that’s surely skewed by the lower threshold for passing right now. I do believe the school districts will get their rates up, but in the meantime those who were worried about the effect these tests may ultimately have on graduation and dropout rates have reason to continue to be worried about it.

The TEA, for its part, says the results statewide were about what they expected.

“While we know there is always an adjustment period for students and teachers in a new testing program, results from the first STAAR assessments are encouraging overall, showing that students generally performed as expected or better and that educators focused intensely on the state curriculum,” Education Commissioner Robert Scott said in a news release.

Bill Hammond, president and chief executive of the Texas Association of Business, which has advocated for accountability and higher standards in public education, called the results disappointing.

“I think it’s safe to say we were all hoping for higher scores, but at least we know now how far we have to go to ensure we have college or career-ready graduates,” Hammond said. “It is a long road, but if we hold our schools and superintendents accountable for improving these results, I believe they will improve.” Hair Balls has more.

Hammond, of course, won’t do anything useful to bring about those improved results we’d all like to see, but he does represent a lot of money, so he gets to be quoted in stories like these.

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3 Comments

  1. Texas Parents says:

    This is a sick joke, right? Back in 2007 the Texas Legislature came up with this great idea to “raise standards” and hold students “accountable.” And now we have it; the $400 million STAAR tests. This year’s 9th grade students will need to pass 15 End-of-Course Exams in order to graduate. This all sounds really great until you stop and realize that the legislature has simultaneously de-funded our schools. Classrooms are becoming increasingly overcrowded and we expect teachers to do more with less. Evidently, the scores are pretty much what TEA expected. And now districts are scrambling to find the money to pay teachers to teach test-prep thoughout the month of June so that students can re-take these tests in July. More money spent on testing. How is that going to improve our schools?

  2. [...] not complaining, just noting the flexibility. The initial results from the STAAR test were not encouraging, and there has been considerable pushback from parents and school administrators over it. This is a [...]

  3. [...] and I don’t think anyone can argue with a straight face that we’re doing that now. The first results of these tests show that we have a long way to go to get the results we want. There are some bills [...]

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