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Terrible Test Replaces Terrible Test

Earlier this year the Texas Education Agency (TEA) launched the "next generation" of student tests - the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) and already it is drawing sharp criticisms from both educators and parents.

The new STAAR program is broken down into two sections: grades 3-8 and grades 9-12. The STAAR program at grades 3–8 tests the same subjects and grades that were assessed on TAKS. However, at the high school level grade-specific assessments will be replaced with 12 end-of-course (EOC) assessments: Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, English I, English II, English III, World Geography, World History, and U.S. History.

If a student from grades 3-8 fails a STAAR exam it could result in the student being held back. If a high school student fails, the results will comprise 15% of the student's final grade in the failed course. A high school student must pass at least 8 of the 12 EOC exams. Additionally, new graduation requirements include obtaining a minimum score in the four core areas of the exam: English, Math, Social Studies and Science. 

Based on the results, students are given "grades" by being placed in one of three categories: unsatisfactory (which is failing), satisfactory, or advanced. High schoolers can be put in an additional category that is unsatisfactory but good enough to allow for the student to graduate.

Recent data from the first year of testing indicates that STAAR performance across the state is abysmal.

  • Biology - 41% pass rate
  • Algebra - 39% pass rate
  • World Geography - 40% pass rate
  • Reading - 46% pass rate
  • Writing - 34% pass rate

Students who failed the test are obligated to retake the STAAR exams at the expense of already tightened school budgets. A student who has failed is expected to re-take the test as many times as needed until he or she passes, must be provided with "accelerated instruction," and must have new materials created for review classes, transportation, and food.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go the the Public Education Committee hearing on the Capitol to discuss the STAAR program and its flaws. 

For the better part of the first hour the TEA panel was questioned by the committee members about the accountability of the exam and how students results match TAKS results from last year. After 30-40 minutes of rephrasing questions to the TEA panel, the committee was met with this one reply, "You must take into consideration the difficulty of the test."

Later in the hearing much of the discussion centered on what the committee called the “15 percent rule.”  This rule calls for the results of EOC’s to count for 15% of the students final grade in a course. While the rule does not go into effect until next year, committee chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said that the “15 percent rule” will probably be permanently reversed.

The committee also heard from TEA officials who (apart from avoiding answering questions) brought up issues such as administering the exams with a month left of school and teachers not having the time to teach the full curriculum.

While figuring out things like a more efficient way to administer the test is important, the most moving testimony was heard from students. Savannah Kumar, a recently graduated senior from Anderson High School said that, “Students are so focused on test-taking they’re not focused on learning material.” Another Anderson student, David Engleman said, “When you punish students, you don’t give them reasons to keep showing up.”

Rep. Hochberg, D-Houston, while defending the increased difficulty of the test also spoke the tests negative impact on student morale. “Those [failing] kids start dropping our sophomore, junior year… they decide they just can’t do it.”

Proponents of the STAAR system argue that the new tests are supposed to better assess progress towards postsecondary readiness — but so did the TAKS’ tests. As a product of the TAKS testing system I can say with assurance that they did nothing to prepare me for my college education. I have little faith that the new STAAR system would have either.