Parents rally against high-stakes testing

Lawmakers, Texas Education Agency draw ire over STAAR test

When the 83rd Texas Legislature convenes Jan. 8, lawmakers will be asked to consider legislation that would reduce or eliminate the effect the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test has on high school students' grades.

The bill is being drafted by a grassroots coalition, Texans Advocating Meaningful Student Assessments, formed in January by Anderson High School parents in Austin but now has statewide membership.

"The way testing is done under STAAR takes all the joy, all the creativity and love of learning out of our classrooms," said TAMSA member Dineen Majcher, one of the group's original members. "Because so much depends on the test scores, kids are no longer learning to think critically."

Students in third through ninth grades took the STAAR test for the first time in March and April. The ninth-grade class that recently finished the school year is the first to have to pass up to 15 end-of-course exams, among other thresholds, to graduate high school.

In its appeal to the Legislature, TAMSA will be joined by nearly 500 Texas school districts—including Georgetown ISD—that have signed a resolution stating their disapproval of high-stakes testing and asking lawmakers to re-examine the 2009 law that led to the creation of STAAR.

The stakes

TAMSA, along with some other critics of STAAR, say they are not against standardized tests. Rather, they do not agree with the level of stakes that are now tied to the tests.

"To have a rating system as such that there may be 25 to 30 [items] in the system and one individual item lowers the rating for that district or campus—it's not a fair system," GISD Assessment Director Becky McCoy said.

Unlike the state's previous standardized test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills—which students needed to pass at various grade levels to graduate—STAAR has several tiers of requirements.

One of those requirements is that STAAR end-of-course tests, taken only by ninth through 11th graders, count for 15 percent of students' final grades. At the urging of some lawmakers, former TEA Commissioner Robert Scott allowed districts to delay the 15 percent rule for the 2011–12 school year. Of Texas' 1,235 districts, 1,150, or about 93 percent, took Scott up on his offer.

While details of TAMSA's bill are still being worked out, Majcher said it would definitely get rid of the

15 percent rule, as the rule places an unreasonable amount of pressure on students.

Skin in the game

Since the birth of accountability ratings in Texas in 1993, the average four-year graduation rate for state public schools has risen from an estimated 66.1 percent in 1995–96 to

75.4 percent in 2009–10, the most recent data available, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Experts interviewed for this article said there is no scientific data that links standardized test scores and academic performance, but Drew Scheberle, senior vice president for education and talent development at the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks the improvement in the graduation rate is because students now have skin in the game. The problem with STAAR, Scheberle said, is not the stakes but the way TEA implemented the test.

"In my opinion, it was rolled out a year too early. We didn't have adequate time to allow our curriculum [to adapt to] what's going to be tested," GISD Superintendent Joe Dan Lee said at an April 5 forum at Community Impact Newspaper.

Another problem for districts is the large expenses that come with testing, critics said. In June, some high schools held remediation courses for students who did not pass one or more exams to prepare for a July retest. The cost of running the courses comes at a cost to the district of $150–$200 per child, according to a TAMSA analysis. Meanwhile, the Texas Legislature has cut education funding by $5.4 billion statewide.

"I believe we have done a good job implementing STAAR given the time limits and legal requirements that are in place," Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said.

Additional reporting by Beth Wade and Samantha Bryant

End-of-course results in GISD

Georgetown ISD released initial results for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness end-of-course exams June 12. The percentage of Georgetown ISD high school students passing the six assessments was higher than the percentage of students passing statewide.

"We are very pleased with the results," Deputy Superintendent Brenda Albright said. "We are at or above the state level in every category. But being at the state average is not our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is to be above that by far."

The passing requirements for STAAR are lower in this first year of its implementation because the state is phasing in the test and allowing districts to adjust to the higher expectations of STAAR.



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