Local school district officials are questioning if the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test should be removed as a requirement for Texas students and be replaced with assessments chosen by individual school districts.
I’m not against testing,” Grapevine-Colleyville ISD Superintendent Robin Ryan said. “I think it’s important to be able to gauge how well your students are doing. But it’s clear we’ve gone overboard with how we use those tests. I think people are really fed up with how the tests are used to [label] schools, and to punish schools and kids, [label] kids and that kind of thing.”
With increasing speculation from school officials and parents on whether the test is a true assessment of student knowledge, a state representative has announced he has plans to propose fundamental reforms to how students in Texas are tested when the 85th legislative session convenes Jan. 10.
State Rep. Jason Issac, R-Dripping Springs, who represents Blanco and Hays counties, told Community Impact Newspaper in August he will outline a plan that will allow the school districts to choose which test to administer to students.
“I don’t think we need to get the problems ironed out at the state level,” Isaac said. “We need to let the districts decide which tests they’re going to implement, when they’re going to implement it, and as long as it complies with state law … then we’re good with the [federal requirements of the] Every Student Succeeds Act.”
Carroll ISD Superintendent David Faltys said he would prefer if districts were given local control.
“Carroll students perform well on any test the state administers,” he said. “While we believe assessments can be an important tool for measuring student success, we do believe there has been an overemphasis on high-stakes testing, and it isn’t the only measure of a student’s success. Carroll ISD would prefer using local assessments, and if the state needs data from us, then a random, stratified assessment of selected students would be a great way to assess a district’s progress towards the stated goals.”
Shannon Tovar, GCISD director of accountability and continuous improvement, said she believes in having a measure of finding out how students are doing in relation to grade-level skills, but the problem lies in using one test to label students, schools and districts.
“While [the STAAR test] is one piece, it is not every piece,” Tovar said. “It doesn’t take into account band, drama, speech, athletics and all the other things that create a student who is a global citizen and great communicator and able to solve problems.”
Passing at a higher level
While school and state officials debate the effectiveness of the STAAR test, the assessment will continue to become more rigorous each year through the 2021-22 school year.
Initially, the Texas Education Agency had plans to raise the passing standards in large increments, however in 2015, former Commissioner of Education Michael Williams announced that in order to minimize any abrupt single-year increases the passing standards would be gradually phased in.
So beginning with the 2015-16 school year students will have to achieve a higher score each year in order to pass a STAAR exam.
TEA spokesperson Lauren Callahan said this means students generally had to correctly answer a few more questions in 2015-16 to pass the test than they did in previous years.
Commissioner of Education Mike Morath said students across the state are performing well even with the increase.
“Student success on STAAR is generally up this year when compared to last year’s standards …” he said. “Despite unanticipated issues associated with the transition to a new testing vendor, Texas students are generating results for a majority of grades 3-8 assessments that are better than prior years.”
Tovar said although it adds increasing pressure to students, she believes the district will continue to perform well, whether it be on the STAAR test or a different test.
“By law we have to have something,” she said. “There’s always going to be an assessment of some kind, but what that looks like in the future could be different from the [STAAR]. Our students will be prepared for whatever assessment comes at them.”
STAAR administration problems
Questioning of the test’s ability to be a true assessment of students and schools increased after a series of mistakes happened with the last administration of the test.
At the core of the those issues is the TEA’s new testing vendor, Educational Testing Service, which made several scoring and reporting errors across the state’s districts—including GCISD.
As a direct result of the various issues, TEA announced in August that it is requiring ETS to spend more than
$20 million in fines and investments after more than 14,000 students had issues with online testing on the STAAR test in March.
The issues also went beyond past online testing to include multiple problems, such as students receiving more than one test grade, confidential results being sent to the wrong districts and incorrectly scored tests.
Tovar said GCISD had to send back tests to be rescored. However, Gail Long, CISD’s Assessment, Accountability, & PEIMS Coordinator, said STAAR issues were not as prevalent in CISD.
“Our only scoring problem was that we did not receive Confidential Student Reports in a timely manner,” she said. “We also had two missing CSRs that were found and later sent to us.”
Callahan said working with the vendor in the future will be a lot smoother.
“We are very confident going forward that we are not going to see those problems again,” she said. “We are incredibly pleased with how the students handled this past administration of the STAAR. It was a lot asked of them, from the increase in the passing standards to the vendor mistakes.”
ETS has until Aug. 31, 2017 to make the changes the TEA requested.