Austin ISD students make some STAAR gains, but standards pose challenge

Elementary and middle school students in Austin ISD made gains in reading, math, science and social studies on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, but are struggling with the new tests' high standards, according to preliminary results released by the Texas Education Agency.

Compared with 2012, AISD students' 2013 passing rates in grades 3–8 increased by 3 percentage points in math to 77 percent, 3 percentage points in reading to 79 percent, 3 percentage points in science to 74 percent, and 3 percent in social studies to 61 percent, according to AISD.

Students across the state had the lowest scores on STAAR writing tests, according to the TEA, whose Commissioner Michael Williams has acknowledged that the writing exams are a significant departure from past state assessments.

AISD's passing rates for writing remained flat at 69 percent.

AISD will examine those scores, which included STAAR, STAAR-Spanish, STAAR-Modified, STAAR-Alt, and STAAR-L and STAAR end-of-course assessments taken by students enrolled in grades 5-8, compared with state standards and results from other urban school districts, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said in a news release.

"We are pleased with the results for reading, math, science and social studies," she said. "Our students and teachers have again worked hard this year and the results reflect their hard work."

The STAAR exam was administered for the first time in spring 2012. The STAAR program for third through eighth grades assesses the same subjects previously assessed by TAKS. For high school, grade-specific assessments are replaced with 12 end-of-course assessments for particular subjects.

The TEA is phasing in the exams, and in this year students are being held to Level II Phase-in 1 standards.

However, in 2016, the TEA will implement the Final Level II Standards, which AISD will need to improve each year to meet, according to Bill Caritj, AISD chief performance officer.

If this year's test results were held to the Final Level II standard, the overall scores would be 28 in social studies, 40 in science, 35 in writing, 41 in math and 45 in reading, according to results released by AISD.

The AISD results represent all students tested, not only students in the accountability cohort, so they cannot be used to predict state or federal accountability ratings, according to AISD.

Statewide, 84 percent of eighth-grade students passed reading on the first try this year, and 89 percent had passed after the second administration. On the math test, 77 percent of eighth-grade students passed the first time they took it, and 86 percent passed after two tries. Those who failed these exams have a third testing opportunity on June 25 and 26. Under state law, Texas students in fifth and eighth grades must pass the STAAR reading and math tests to advance to the next grade.