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Is STAAR too hard on young readers? The standardized test is in lawmakers’ crosshairs again.

Texas’ unpopular statewide standardized test is once again caught in legislative crosshairs, this time after a controversial Texas Monthly article has questioned whether the test was evaluating elementary and middle school students based on reading passages that were one to three grades above their level.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, along with academic experts and educators, will appear before the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday to answer questions about the test, known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR. Then, the panel will consider a slate of bills proposing slashing the number of state-required STAAR exams.

Educators and parents have been arguing for years that the STAAR is too high-stakes and an inaccurate measure of whether students are academically succeeding. Lawmakers have generally been sympathetic to this argument, passing laws over the last several years to drastically reduce the number of required exams and shorten the length of some assessments.

But the Texas Monthly story has brought a new round of scrutiny. The article is based on two studies, from 2012 and 2016, which ran test passages through formulas designed to analyze their complexity and found they were generally too challenging for students. Education advocates are pointing to the studies to argue that the state is wrongly judging whether students can read at grade level, placing them in needless remedial instruction and unnecessarily penalizing schools and districts.

Student scores on the STAAR are the main component in determining school and district ratings, and part of determining whether students have learned enough to move up a grade or graduate. In 2018, just 46 percent of Texas students were at or above grade level for reading or English.

“Politically, there’s probably more of an appetite this session to do something about STAAR,” said state Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, a member of the House Public Education Committee. “What that is remains to be seen.”

VanDeaver will present a bill to the committee Tuesday rolling back the number of state-required STAAR exams, closer to the federally-required minimum.

“This new information coming out certainly gives us an opportunity to push the pause button and do some real research” on STAAR’s merits, he said.

Texas Education Agency officials, meanwhile, are defending the test. Two days after the Texas Monthly article was published, the agency sent a letter to lawmakers saying that the formula used in the studies is “inappropriate” for judging whether STAAR exams are on grade level.

That formula — called a “Lexile measure” — uses factors such as the number of syllables per word to judge the complexity of a book or passage. Generally, teachers use Lexile measures to match students with texts that match their reading ability or monitor whether their skills are growing, according to Eleanor Sanford-Moore, senior vice-president of research and development for MetaMetrics, which owns Lexile.

Lexile measures are not used to match a text to a certain grade level, and they have limited use in determining whether a state assessment like STAAR is grade-appropriate.

“These types of [state standardized] tests will have a range in the difficulty of passages so that students of differing ability levels can have access to passages at their reading level,” Sanford-Moore said in a statement to the Tribune.

But advocates argue that teachers are expected to teach grade-level text in the classroom, and use Lexile measures as one piece of evidence showing whether students are succeeding.

“If you have a kid and you’ve told their parents in parent conferences that their student is doing well, they’re making progress, they’re reading on grade level, and here’s all the data we have to show your student is doing well — and then it comes back with the label of approaches grade level? That is confusing to teachers,” said Dee Carney, associate at consulting firm Moak, Casey and Associates, and part of the coalition calling for the state to reconsider using STAAR.

Author: ALIYYA SWABY – The Texas Tribune

Cellist Zuill Bailey Visits EPISD Middle Schoolers, Talks Importance of Fine Arts

Students at three EPISD middle schools embraced the A in STEAM when they welcomed world-renowned cellist and El Paso music mainstay Zuill Bailey to their campuses to talk about the importance of the arts in public education.

Bailey stopped by the school to inspire students from the Young Women’s STEAM Research and Preparatory Academy and Armendariz Middle School.

“As a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) academy, we want to expose our students to the arts. This is the perfect time to give the students some time to relax and listen to amazing music and just be inspired,” said Principal Dr. Cynthia Ontiveros. “It was a perfect opportunity for both schools to join in and celebrate this together. I look forward to many more opportunities like this.”

The gym usually filled with raucous cheering became a place of serenity, as the Grammy award-winning musician stirred the students’ ears with the prelude from Bach’s Suite for Cello No. 1.

The visit came at a perfect time, just a couple days before the start of STAAR testing, but has been in the works for months.

“This is something we have been anticipating since January,” Ontiveros said. “Our counselor made connection with Felipa Solis, who is the executive director of El Paso Pro-Musica, to bring Zuill Bailey to our school, so it was just a matter of waiting for him to have some time in his schedule.”

Bailey, who also made a stop at MacArthur Elementary Intermediate, loves playing for the youth.

“With El Paso Pro Musica our mission is to break down borders and bring beautiful music to everyone and use it as a tool for expression and communication,” Bailey said. “I never know exactly what’s going to happen when I play for young people, but I am always amazed by how inspiring the change is.”

He asked students to close their eyes and listen to the music and how it made them feel.

Sixth-grader Alexa Alcantar let the music wash over her.

“When I closed my eyes, I felt really peaceful and relaxed,” she said. “I am a cellist so when I heard he was coming, I was really happy. I hope I can sound like him and play like him and make people feel what he makes people feel.”

Bailey also talked about the mechanics of the cello, showing students the horsehair on his bow and the sleek design of his carbon fiber cello – which is light, compared to the 325-year old Gofriller cello he plays at performances.

“I recognized the techniques he was using,” Alcantar said. “I think it was really helpful what he said about getting a walnut and rolling it on the cello so you can learn to play vibrato.”

Armendariz seventh-grader Jesus Diaz doesn’t play an instrument, but he closed his eyes nonetheless to focus on the mood each song invoked.

“It was pretty impressive. He’s really good,” he said. “The music made me feel both sad and happy.”

Ontiveros hopes the music inspires students from both schools to work hard to accomplish their goals and pursue their passions.

“I want them to learn it doesn’t happen overnight,” she said. “That’s something he really put an emphasis on when he shared his journey. Practice makes permanent.”

The visits took place Friday, May 11th.

Story by Alicia Chumley | Photos by Leonel Monroy | Video by Raymond Jackson  –  EPISD

Embattled STAAR Test Vendor Facing $20 Million Fine

The Texas Education Agency is penalizing the New Jersey-based company that develops and administers the state’s controversial STAAR tests to the tune of $20.7 million — over widespread logistical and technical issues reported with the spring administration, Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced Tuesday.

The problems caused thousands of students to lose answers to online standardized tests.

The education agency is slapping Educational Testing Services with $5.7 million in “liquidated damages” and also asking it to “invest $15 million of its own funds toward an action plan that addresses a number of areas of concern this past school year,” Morath said. Those areas include online testing and shipping, scoring of the tests and reporting results.

“I believe this combination of liquidated damages with an additional financial commitment from ETS reflects the correct balance of accountability for the recent past and safeguards for the future,” Morath said in a statement.

It is the largest fine the state has ever assessed against a testing vendor, said education agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe.

This was the first year ETS administered STAAR exams after the state scrapped the bulk of its longtime contract with London-based Pearson Education. The state also assessed a fine of $120,000 to Pearson, which retained a small part of the contract to test certain subgroups of students, “for some late deliveries and a service disruption one day in April,” Ratcliffe said in an email.

School districts reported dozens of logistical and technical issues during the spring administrations of the state-required exams known as the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, which fifth graders, eighth graders and high schoolers are supposed to pass before they can move on to the next grade or graduate. Scores also factor heavily into school district and campus accountability ratings.

Problems first surfaced in March, when school districts reported problems with online tests that caused students to lose answers. The computer glitch impacted more than 14,000 exams. That was followed by reports of exams being shipped to the wrong location, delays and mix-ups with scoring and other problems.

The issues — scoring delays, in particular — prompted Morath to drop grade advancement consequences for fifth and eighth graders and exclude exams affected by the computer glitch from school accountability ratings. But despite pleas from school superintendents to throw out all scores for the purposes of rating schools, Morath has suggested the issues were not widespread or severe enough to do so.

“ETS apologizes for the operational shortcomings during this year’s STAAR program,” the test vendor said in a news release Tuesday. “Our most important goal is to deliver the high-quality program the students and educators of Texas deserve, and we will continue to improve programs and processes to achieve that objective.”

The company, which administers national exams including the SAT, spent an additional $20 million providing support to school districts and charters as they attempted to resolve testing issues, according to an education agency news release. It noted that those costs will be assumed by the company and are “above and beyond” its state contract, worth $280 million over four years.

Correction: A previous version of this story listed the wrong amount for the testing contract. It is $280 million, not $340 million.

Disclosure: Educational Testing Service and Pearson have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Read more about the contentious STAAR exams:

Author:  –  The Texas Tribune

Judge Denies State’s Request to Toss STAAR Suit

After a group of parents sued the Texas Education Agency over the 2016 administration of STAAR exams, state lawyers argued this summer that the parents had no standing and asked the courts to drop the case.

This week, the first day of school for many Texas children, Travis County District Court Judge Stephen Yelenosky denied their request in a one-page order with no further explanation.

The decision, which comes after a recent hearing, means the lawsuit brought by parents from Houston, Wimberley, Austin and Orangefield — whose children were in the third, fifth and eighth grades last school year — will be able to proceed.

The lawsuit, filed against the education agency in Travis County district court, argues that spring 2016 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness scores are invalid because the exams were not administered under parameters laid out in House Bill 743. The legislation, passed last year with bipartisan support, requires the state to design STAAR exams so that a majority of elementary and middle school students can complete them within a certain period of time (two hours for third- through fifth-graders and three hours for sixth- through eighth-graders.)

In court filings, state lawyers said the agency complied with the new statute and also asked the court to toss the suit due to lack of “harm” to students.

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said the agency hadn’t seen Monday’s order and so could not comment.

Education Commissioner Mike Morath, listed as the primary defendant in the suit, threw out all grade promotion consequences for fifth- and eighth-graders this year because of score delays under a new testing vendor, the filings note. They also say that students could have been advanced to the next grade by a graduation committee regardless of Morath’s decision, and that there are no such consequences for third-graders. The filing also says there is “no allegation any of the plaintiffs failed or were specifically harmed by the allegedly noncompliant test — or even that the length of the test affected the child’s performance in any way.”

But the parents would like to see all scores thrown out. Their lawyer Austin-area lawyer, Scott Placek, who hailed Monday’s decision as a “big victory,” said they will keep fighting until that happens.

“The judge said without qualifications they have the right to be there and they have the right to have their case heard and so we’re in the position now where the case can really go forward,” he said. “I think we’ll look to move the discovery expeditiously and get to trial as quickly as we can because kids are being impacted already as they head back to school.”

The decision comes the same day the crowdfunded plaintiffs, members of a grassroots group called The Committee to Stop STAAR, announced they had secured an education agency report via an open records request showing STAAR administration did not comply with the law.

Their lawsuit was filed amid a fresh and fervent wave of dissent against the STAAR exams, a more rigorous series of tests first introduced in 2012. It was fueled by widespread logistical and technical issues with this year’s administration under a new testing vendor, New Jersey-based Educational Testing Service, which has declined to comment on the issues.

Read more of our coverage related to STAAR exams:

  • More Texas school districts and charter schools are failing in 2016, though the number of individual campuses that received that label decreased.
  • A special panel recommending changes to the state’s public school testing and accountability system has stopped short of proposing that Texas scrap the controversial assessment regime known as STAAR.

Disclosure: Educational Testing Service has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

Thousands of Seniors Who Failed STAAR Exams Graduated in 2015

More than 6,000 Texas high school seniors were able to graduate in 2015 even though they didn’t pass all of their end-of-course exams, according to data the Texas Education Agency posted online this spring but did not announce.

Their advancement was made possible by the Legislature’s overwhelming approval last year of legislation reducing the number of tests high schoolers must pass to receive a diploma. Senate Bill 149 is among several high-profile bills lawmakers have passed in recent years to ease the high-stakes nature of the standardized testing and accountability system they spent years making more rigorous and consequential.

Prior to passage of the legislation, students in the Class of 2015 would have been required to pass five end-of-course exams to graduate: English I, English II, Algebra I, U.S. history and biology. Instead, they were able to walk the stage even if they had failed as many as two of the tests as long as they had passed all their coursework and a special “graduation committee” — made up of their principals, teachers, school counselors and parents — unanimously endorsed it. (With more than 313,300 total graduates, the class was the first group of seniors required to pass the array of exams to graduate; a 2013 law reduced the number of required end-of-course exams from 15 to 5.)

State data quietly posted online in April shows that 12,077 seniors who had not passed exams after two attempts were referred to a graduation committee last year and that the panels cleared 6,279 of them for graduation — about 52 percent. (Data for the Class of 2016 is not yet available.)

That’s far lower than the percentage of 5th and 8th graders who are promoted to the next grade level by similar panels — the vast majority of whom are approved. Students in those grades are supposed to pass math and reading exams before advancing — a requirement Education Commissioner Mike Morath waived last month after school districts reported numerous problems with the administration of this spring’s exams under a new testing vendor.

Critics of the legislation, which is set to expire if legislators do not renew it next year, warned last year that the newest graduation committees would advance seniors at rates similar to that of 5th and 8th graders, passing them even when it wasn’t appropriate. That would weaken student performance and college and career readiness, they argued.

Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, which backs high-stakes standardized testing and believes the current battery of exams is too easy, conceded the percentage of graduates is lower than initially feared but said that “even 1 in 2 is too many.”

“We’re very disappointed that so many students are allowed to graduate without even very basic skill levels,” he said.

But bill proponents and stakeholder groups say the data indicates that the special panels did not abuse their newfound discretion.

“I think it shows that districts were careful and cautious and are paying close attention when they form these committees and not just passing every kid,” said Casey McCreary, assistant executive director of education policy at the Texas Association of School Administrators, a nonprofit group that represents educators.

Under the legislation, graduation committees have to consider multiple factors related to students’ academic success, including grades in relevant coursework and overall attendance rate.

In lobbying for the bill, proponents pointed to numerous cases of otherwise high-achieving students who had been accepted to four-year universities or the military who would be forced to put their plans on hold because they hadn’t passed a test that isn’t even required for college admission. At the time the bill was passed, some 28,000 seniors were at risk of not graduating because they had failed at least one exam.

“A single test shouldn’t limit a student’s future,” said Chris Vierra, vice president of influential testing reform group Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, which pushed for the legislation.

Of those who were allowed to graduate last year, 63 percent had failed only one exam while 34 percent had failed two, the data shows. (The rest are shown as failing three or more, but an education agency spokeswoman said that is probably because they didn’t take all the tests as they transferred from another state or were exempt.) The test students are having the most difficulty with is English II, with nearly 39 percent of the 6,279 graduates failing only that exam.

Ideally everyone would have graduated last year, Vierra said, “but if local committees decided that only 50 percent were truly ready to graduate, then I believe in that data.”

“This is a local control issue,” said Vierra, also a trustee for the Houston-area Spring Branch school district. “I believe in local control. I believe ISDs and principals know best what their students need.”

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business and the Texas Association of School Administrators have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

Foul Ups Prompt State to Scrap School Test Scores

Fifth and eighth graders who failed STAAR exams this year won’t be held back a grade or be required to retest later this month, Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced late Friday, citing “ongoing reporting issues” with the state’s new testing vendor.

“I apologize for the continuing problems our students and staff are being forced to deal with because of ongoing reporting issues with our testing vendor,” Morath said in a statement. “Kids in the classroom should never suffer from mistakes made by adults. We intend to hold the vendor, Educational Testing Service, accountable.”

This past school year was the first that the New Jersey-based company known as ETS developed and administered the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness exams, which 5th and 8th graders and high schoolers are supposed to pass before they can move on to the next grade or graduate. State law allows Morath to waive the requirement whenever necessary, the Texas Education Agency noted in a news release.

School districts have reported dozens of logistical and technical issues during the various spring administrations of the state-required exams.

Problems first surfaced in March, when school districts reported problems with online tests that caused students to lose answers. The computer glitch impacted more than 14,000 exams. Several other issues have surfaced since, including — most recently — claims from a high-performing West Austin school district that ETS had lost all exams taken by 3rd through 8th graders that it shipped to the company.

ETS denied it had lost the tests. A spokesman did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment late Friday.

The issues, which are not entirely unprecedented, have fueled an existing backlash against the state’s testing and accountability system, the stakes of which many parents and educators believe are too high.

Morath’s announcement marks a departure in opinion for the state education chief, who previously said there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant scrapping all statewide exams for the purposes of holding students accountable. Friday’s announcement did not address whether exam scores, including those of 5th and 8th graders, would be used to rate schools under the state’s accountability system.

But Morath did make it clear that districts still may hold 5th and 8th graders back — or make them go to summer school — if they deem it appropriate.

“Even though state requirements have been waived, districts are still encouraged to use local discretion to determine on an individual basis whether accelerated instruction should be offered to support students,” the news release said.

The problems also have affected high school STAAR tests, but state law doesn’t allow the education commissioner to waive graduation requirements.

The announcement is a victory for parents and educators who had urged Morath to discount STAAR scores.

Last month, a group of parents sued the state in an attempt to block it from using STAAR scores results to make grade promotion decisions for younger students, including grades other than 5th and 8th, or to decide whether they should attend summer school.

“A large part of the relief which we were seeking has been voluntarily given by the [Texas Education Agency],” said the parents’ lawyer, Scott Placek, describing it as “a good first step.” “They know the administration of this year’s STAAR is indefensible.”

Further review of the announcement is needed before they can decide whether to drop the lawsuit, Placek said. It seems that the exam scores still will appear in students’ records regardless of whether they are used to decide whether to promote them, he noted.

“They could completely toss the scores out, which in a way I think they’re trying to do without doing it,” he said, describing an ideal scenario.

Disclosure: Educational Testing Service has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues

Parents Sue Texas Education Agency Over STAAR Exams

A backlash against this year’s STAAR exams escalated Monday when a group of parents sued the state in an attempt to keep schools from using 2016 test scores to rate students — including deciding whether students should advance to the next grade or attend summer school.

The lawsuit, filed against the Texas Education Agency in Travis County district court, argues that this year’s scores are invalid because the exams were not administered under parameters laid out inHouse Bill 743. The legislation, passed last year with bipartisan support, requires the state to design STAAR exams so that a majority of elementary and middle school students can complete them within a certain period of time (two hours for third– through fifth-graders and three hours for sixth- through eighth-graders.)

The law was set to take effect during the 2015-16 school year, but the education agency has taken a phased-in compliance approach. Fourth- and seventh-grade writing tests administered this spring were revamped to comply with the law, but the rest of the exams were not.

“TEA will gather data during the spring 2016 administrations to determine how to adjust the remaining grades 3-8 assessments to meet the testing time requirements of HB 743,” according to the agency’s website. “The remaining redesigned grades 3-8 assessments will be administered beginning in spring 2017.”

Spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe declined to comment late Monday, saying the education agency hadn’t yet been served with the lawsuit.

“Despite knowing that the assessments did not comply with statute, and despite a lead time of over nine months to comply, the TEA failed and refused to develop assessments that comply with the statute,” according to Monday’s lawsuit, filed on behalf of four parents from Houston, Wimberley, Austin and Orangefield, who are members of a grassroots group calledThe Committee to Stop STAAR.

“As a result, approximately 2 [million] Texas students were administered illegal assessments. The results of these illegal assessments are now being used to enact punitive measures against students, teachers and schools across the state.”

Scott Placek, the lead attorney on the case, said at a Monday news conference that the parents decided to sue last week after Education Commissioner Mike Morath told The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith in an interview that the agency still was planning to only scrap scores from more than 14,000 STAAR exams affected by a computer glitch.

Despite numerous other reported problems, Morath has said there is not enough evidence to exclude all other exams from the state’s accountability system, although he said the agency is still looking into the issue.

In a letter to Morath this month, the Texas Association of School Administrators outlineddozens of issues districts had reported with this year’s STAAR administration, including inaccurate scoring and tests being shipped to the wrong location.

This is the first school year that New Jersey-based Educational Testing Service developed and administered the STAAR exam after the state scrapped its longtime contract with London-based Pearson, which had held the contract since Texas began requiring state student assessments in the 1980s. ETS is known for administering the graduate school admissions test, known as the GRE.

The Committee to Stop STAAR has raised more than $20,000 online to help fund its legal efforts. The Houston Federation of Teachers provided a matching grant.

“Donors to the campaign are a diverse group of parents, grandparents, teachers and concerned citizens from around the state who demand action after the TEA ignored the common sense reforms that many felt they had won during last year’s legislative session,” according to a news release. “Fundraising began on March 30, 2016—the same week as the first administration of this year’s STAAR.”

Disclosure: Educational Testing Service, the Texas Association of School Administrators and Pearson have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. Find a complete list of donors and sponsors here

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues

STAAR Passing Rates Flat Under Higher Standards

Passing rates on the statewide standardized exam known as STAAR have barely changed among fifth- and eighth-graders, newly released testing results show. They may be viewed as an improvement, however, given this year’s higher passing standards.

Results on fifth- and eighth-grade reading and math exams administered this spring, released Friday by the Texas Education Agency, show performance shifted up or down from last year by a few percentage points.

On reading exams, 75 percent of fifth-graders passed, compared to 78 percent last school year. This year’s eighth-graders improved slightly, with 82 percent passing reading exams this year compared to 78 percent last school year.

On math exams, this year’s fifth-graders performed the same as last year’s, with 79 percent passing. Seventy-three percent of eighth-graders passed their math exams, down from 75 percent last year.

Fifth- and eighth-graders can be held back if they don’t pass their STAAR exams. Those who failed will have a chance to retest in May and June. If they still can’t pass, a special committee can promote them to the next grade as long as it votes unanimously.

The testing results come amid mounting reservations about the accuracy of the STAAR scores.

In March, technical glitches impacted more than 14,000 computerized STAAR exams, causing students to lose answers. (Some also were given the wrong test.) The state is not requiring districts to retest students but has said they should use other factors to decide whether to promote fifth- and eighth-grade students to the next grade.

The Lewisville Independent School District has since discovered that high school end-of-course exams administered in December were scored incorrectly.

And the Dallas Morning News reported this week that nearly 50 Houston-area superintendents have complained to the state about STAAR testing problems, including tests being sent to a church instead of a school.

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues

Computer Glitch Affected Thousands of STAAR Exams

Technical issues last week that caused public school students to lose their answers on state standardized exams affected more than 14,000 computerized tests, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told the State Board of Education on Wednesday.

Most of the exams in question were being taken by special-education students, he said during a regularly scheduled update to the 15-member elected board.

Problems surfaced last week on the first day of the statewide administration of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, exam, helping fuel an ongoing backlash against a standardized testing regime that many parents and educators believe is already too stressful.

The Texas Education Agency later confirmed that school districts across the state had reported that students’ previously input responses on online tests had disappeared after they had logged out — either voluntarily or due to 30 minutes of inactivity or a lost internet connection. Until Morath’s comments Wednesday, the agency had not revealed how many exams were affected.

The number of exams impacted likely correlates to the number of students impacted, although TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said in an email that “because 5th and 8th graders took two tests” last week, “theoretically the same student could have been impacted twice but hopefully that didn’t happen.”

Of the 14,220 affected exams, Ratcliffe said 8,778 were STAAR A, which is given to special-education students. The rest were regular and STAAR L exams, which is given to English language learners.

Morath again described the problem as “simply unacceptable” on Wednesday, echoing a strongly worded statement he issued last week that said “Kids in the classroom should never suffer from mistakes made by adults.”

The state left the decision of whether to retest affected students up to school districts. Some opted to retest students, Morath said Wednesday. But he said the exam scores of affected students would not factor into school ratings under the state’s accountability system.

If the problem isn’t solved by May, Morath said the state would reconsider its contract with Educational Testing Services, the New Jersey-based company it picked last year to develop and administer the state-required exams. The decision to hire ETS made waves as London-based Pearson had held the contract since Texas began requiring state student assessments in the 1980s.

ETS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Morath said ETS would also be financially penalized. The TEA is still determining the amount of the penalty, Ratcliffe said.

“One of the primary reasons” for the problem was a “timeout issue,” she said in an email.

“The system was set to log someone off if he was inactive for 30 minutes,” she said. “That timeout limit was adjusted as the week went along.”  

Author: Kiah Collier  – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues

State ups passing standards on school STAAR exams

It will get harder for Texas public school students to pass standardized tests this year, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced Tuesday, ending speculation that new, higher standards might be delayed. But Williams said the state will ease into the tougher passing standards more slowly than originally planned.

Since they were launched three and a half years ago, scores have remained flat on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, exams, prompting some to guess that the state would again delay upping the number of questions students must answer correctly to pass.

The lag had already prompted Williams to delay implementation of the stricter standards, which were set to take effect two years ago.

But Williams unveiled a more gradual phase-in of the stricter standards to replace a stair-step approach he announced just last year that would have implemented more dramatic increases this year and again in 2018-19 and in 2021-22.

The so-called “standard progression approach” is designed to be gentler, Williams explained in a statement Tuesday, saying it “is intended to minimize any abrupt single-year increase … for this school year and in the future.”

The standards will progressively increase until the 2021-2022 school year when students will be required to perform at levels of “postsecondary readiness.”

Williams’ announcement was not unexpected. In remarks at a conference in Austin Saturday, Williams confirmed the increased standards, which had been set to take effect under a 2014 plan that delayed them for the 2014-15 school year.

Citing his remarks, the Texas Education Agency said in a statement this week that “the announced move should not have been a surprise to superintendents because the state has been at Level I for the past four years and the Commissioner had already advised several months ago that the state would be moving to the next higher standard.”

Tuesday’s announcement confirmed the launch of the Level II standards.

Still, critics said the move won’t do anything to help Texas students whose performance has not improved on the harder exams even with a laxer passing standard.

“I think it’s really kind of almost cruel to raise passing standards at such a time,” said Theresa Trevino, president of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Assessment, a statewide grassroots organization that has successfully pushed for standardized testing reforms.

Texas students in grades 3 through 8 must take two or more subject-specific exams under the testing regime launched in spring

photo by: Texas Education Agency This graph depicts the difference between the Texas Education Agency's previously proposed phase-in of tougher STAAR passing standards (blue line) and its newly proposed phase-in (orange line), which Education Commissioner Michael Williams says "is intended to minimize any abrupt single-year increase."
photo by: Texas Education Agency
This graph depicts the difference between the Texas Education Agency’s previously proposed phase-in of tougher STAAR passing standards (blue line) and its newly proposed phase-in (orange line), which Education Commissioner Michael Williams says “is intended to minimize any abrupt single-year increase.”

2012. STAAR is considered more difficult and rigorous than its predecessors.

Under the high-stakes system, some students are expected to pass their exams before advancing to the next grade level, and high schoolers are expected to pass five end-of-course exams (15 before lawmakers opted to reduce it) before receiving a diploma, although lawmakers created a major exception to that requirement earlier this year.

Passing standards on exams administered last year varied by grade and test.

That will remain the case under the new passing standards, said TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe. “Students will have to answer one to two questions more correctly to pass” under the tougher requirements, she said.

“If we (had) stuck with our previous phase-in plan, they would have had to answer on average four more questions correctly,” she said, explaining that the agency thinks teachers and students have had enough time to adjust to the new regime.

“You can’t increase the standards without knowing that potentially the passing rate is going to decline, but hopefully with that extra year of instruction the scores will go up,” she said.

On the reading exam administered last spring, eighth graders had to answer 28 of 52 questions correctly to pass — less than 54 percent — while fifth graders taking the math exam had to answer 23 of 50 questions correctly or 46 percent.

Student performance on state standardized tests is a focus of a long-running school finance lawsuit involving more than two-thirds of Texas school districts pending before the Texas Supreme Court. During the trial, lawyers for the state said poor performance on the state exams the first time around was to be expected as schools adjusted to STAAR. School districts argued that they had not received enough resources to meet the new, more rigorous standards.

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, pol itics, government and statewide issues.

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