Lawmakers Begin Vetting STAAR Exam
Lawmakers on Tuesday began addressing criticism of the new school accountability tests given this spring, but education advocates are concerned about what solutions will look like.
The House Public Education committee spent several hours Tuesday listening to feedback about the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness – or STAAR –from school districts across the state. But the committee members kicked off the meeting with their own questions about STAAR. First off – what should be made of the fact that only 39 percent of this year’s 9th graders passed the algebra one STAAR test? The number was a steep drop when compared to last year’s 9th grade math exam.
“I mean there’s a lot of difference in the content, but yes, that’s correct,” said Gloria Zyskowski, director of Student Assessment for the Texas Education Agency. “Last year on the 9th grade mathematics test, 70 percent of the students who took that test passed.”
Zyskowski said the agency is finishing a study this month that will try to better compare scores between last year’s Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, test and STAAR. She says one of the biggest complaints about TAKS was that a general knowledge test, especially in high school, forced teachers to stop teaching their courses – and start teaching to the test.
“Moving to an end of course model,” she said, “I think the reasoning behind that, and certainly sound reasoning, is that – that would be prevented because the assessment is going to cover what they’re being taught in that course.”
That change also mandated that the new STAAR end-of-course exams make up 15 percent of the student’s final grade in a class. The TEA deferred the requirement this year after several school districts expressed concern over how an unknown test could adversely affect a student’s grades. But state Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, argued with Zyskowski over how the STAAR test was any different from a regular final exam.
“Is this test what the students are supposed to learn or is it beyond what the students are supposed to learn?” Hochberg said.
“The test is designed to measure what the students are supposed to have been taught in that course,” Zyskowski replied.
“O.K., so if they only learned 37 percent of it, should they be considered to have passed the course?” Hochberg asked.
Several times during the hearing, the committee chair, state Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, mentioned problems that would be addressed by lawmakers in the 2013 legislative session. Education advocates worry what those solutions will look like, however, because Eissler, Hochberg and Senate education chair Florence Shapiro won’t be around in January. Eissler lost his seat in the primary. Hochberg and Shapiro are retiring. That leaves much of the heavy lifting on education to less experienced lawmakers.