STAAR Test Raises the Stakes Too Fast, Lawmakers Say
Texas public school students have to take a new state test this year. But one big question is still up in the air: Will it count towards their final grades?
More jobs than ever in this state, and across the U.S., require that students do well in high school and go on to get some kind of post-secondary education.
But right now, only about one in four Texas adults has a bachelor’s degree. That concerns policy makers.
Texas thinks it can increase college attendance by demanding better performance in public schools. This year, the state introduced a tough new test called the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR.
But the way STAAR is being phased in has some parents worried that it might actually hurt their kids’ ability to get into the best college possible.
“Parents have been very concerned about the impact that this test will have on their students’ grades,” said Christy Rome, who is in charge of policy oversight at the Austin Independent School District.
“Ninth-graders, eighth-graders and some seventh-graders actually are going to be taking end-of-course exams for the first time this year,” Rome said. “And for those students right now, the law says that performance on that exam will determine 15 percent of their final course grade.”
That was never the case with the last state test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS. But school districts — which are also graded by the state – get a pass this year. Their scores won’t count so they can get used to the new test.
“We said, that’s not fair, giving this opportunity to school but not to the ninth-graders,” Shapiro said. “And if we can move this issue from a lot of the problems that exist, it’s the right thing to do, so that it all comes online at the same time.”
But at least one prominent voice says the issue is being overblown. Texas Association of Business president Bill Hammond, for whom workforce development is a priority, this week urged lawmakers to ignore what he calls a stalling tactic by school districts.
“What’s happened, unfortunately, tragically in my view, the superintendents have scared the moms and dads of kids in Texas,” Hammond said. “And they told them that their kids would do poorly on the test. I think that’s exactly the wrong attitude to have, and is shameful as a matter of fact on their part.”
But on Tuesday, the head of the House Education Committee, Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, told the Houston Chronicle that he agrees with his Senate counterparts. Eissler wants the 15 percent rule to be delayed.
Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott is waiting to hear from House lawmakers before deciding but says he ultimately believes in the new testing regime.
“I think eventually it’s going to be a lot better for kids,” Scott said. “It’s going to take some time to implement and people to get used to and adjusted to and figure out local policies. And that’s what we’re working on this year.”
No matter what happens, ninth-graders still need to do well in their STAAR test this year. Even if it doesn’t count toward their course grade, it will be used in three years as part of the calculation to determine whether they can graduate from high school.