Marjorie Kamys Cotera/Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott warmed up his bill-signing pen on Monday, approving a measure ensuring that some high school seniors who fail to pass state exams can seek an alternate route to graduation.

Nathan Bernier/KUT

90 percent of school districts in Texas met state standards, according to results released Friday by the Texas Education Agency.

Under a new rating system that began last year, schools are rated as Met Standard, Met Alternative Standard or Improvement Required.

“Texans should be pleased to see the vast majority of districts, charters, and campuses are meeting the standards set in the second year of the state accountability system,” Education Commissioner Michael Williams said in a statement. “While the 2014 numbers are positive, the work continues in districts across our state to meet and exceed increasing state standards and the expectations of their local communities.”

Jon Shapley for KUT News

Elgin Middle School sixth grader Allison Graves sits at a computer in math class, using a program called Think Through Math to practice fractions.

“Your friend gave you a bag of candy," she reads. "There are 36 red candies and 27 green candies. What is the ratio of green candies to red candies?”

The online math program takes Graves through each lesson step by step. She collects points for correct answers and competes against classmates and other Texas students.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

As the state integrates a directive that requires eighth-graders in Texas public schools to have graphing calculators for STAAR testing, some poorer Texas school districts say that such mandates ignore the financial crunch that many districts are already facing.

In February, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams wrote to Texas superintendents to instruct them that they must ensure that eighth-grade students have graphing calculators for STAAR assessments, starting in the 2014-15 school year. The directive comes after the State Board of Education increased the algebra content on the exam, said Debbie Ratcliffe, a TEA spokeswoman.

Nathan Bernier/KUT News

Texas high schools are preparing for major changes to graduation requirements. Under a new law, schools will have less standardized testing. But when it comes to implementing the new legislation, many questions are yet to be answered. 

The State Board of Education hashed out the details today of how to enforce the new high school graduation requirements that go into effect in the 2014-15 school year. Monica Martinez, managing director of curriculum for the Texas Education Agency, noted the challenges of implementing standards consistently statewide. 

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

STAAR test results released last week show minimal gains compared to 2012. It was the second year students took the new standardized tests, which teachers and administrators say are more rigorous. 

Darren Braun for Texas Monthly

As Austin ISD and other school districts across Texas hunker down and power through another round of state standardized tests this week, lawmakers are making moves that suggest they think the testing regime has gone too far.

House Bill 5, for example, would reduce the number of tests students need to pass to graduate from 15 to 5. This is happening in a state that gave birth to the "academic accountability" movement. 

Texas Monthly senior editor Nate Blakeslee examines the issue in the May edition of the magazine, on news stands now. Listen to our interview with him above and read his article at

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Texas students taking the STAAR test this week will have to pass in order to advance to the next grade.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams says there is enough money in the preliminary state budget to provide tutoring to fifth and eighth graders who fail the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. 

Right now, state lawmakers have allocated $41 million over the next two years for the Student Success Initiative. SSI provides money to school districts to tutor students who cannot pass the STAAR reading or math tests. 

Jason Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Good morning! Highs in the mid-70’s today bring perfect weather for South By Southwest music fans.

Lead Story: Advanced Micro Devices says it is selling its southwest Austin campus and leasing it back. AMD says it won’t affect operations, but it will free up about $164 million in cash.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Austin schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen says she supports measures to dial back standardized testing in Texas schools. One bill proposed by the head of the House Public Education Committee, Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, would reduce the number of STAAR tests required to graduate from 15 to five.

Carstarphen says the new STAAR test was rolled out too quickly.

Photo courtesy The Texas Tribune

Over the last several legislative sessions, lawmakers have been focusing on increasing the rigor of high school courses. With the goal of getting every student ready to attend college. Some business leaders say that’s come at the expense of career and technical education.

Mario Lozoya is with Toyota Texas, whose plant is located in San Antonio. He told lawmakers on the Senate Education committee Tuesday the plant is "the high tech"  manufacturing facility in South Texas. Which is why he regularly visits Central Texas high schools to make sure automotive/tech students are being trained to meet the plant’s job skill requirements.

But, he said on many occasions, those expectations are not being met.

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

Former House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler has taken on publishing and testing giant Pearson as a client, according to recent Ethics Commission filings.

The Republican from The Woodlands, who lost his seat in the 2012 Republican primary, is now an Austin lobbyist whose clients include the Harris County Department of Education and the Barbers Hill Independent School District.

Rune Mathisen, Texas Tribune

Texas high school students would have to take just five standardized tests to graduate instead of 15, under a bill filed today in the Texas House. State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock,  R-Killeen, says House Bill 5 would give students more flexibility to pursue vocational careers.

“Hoping that stimulates kids to find the areas that they find interesting and challenging in life, and that they begin to choose areas they want to go into, not necessarily areas the state’s trying to press them into,” Aycock said.

Austin Feldman

Austin elementary school students performed strongly in the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams. Middle schoolers didn't do quite as well.

Overall, the AISD passing rates for the STAAR—the standardized test that replaces the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS)—ranged from 82 percent in third and fourth grade reading to 58 percent in eighth grade social studies. Passing rates for most tests topped 70 percent.

Jason Wiseman/Texas Tribune

A business lobbying group that’s been a big supporter of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR exams, has called for some changes, saying that the program may have gone overboard in trying to introduce accountability so quickly.

The Texas Association of Business wants to reduce the number of tests a high school senior needs to pass in order to graduate, and to push the entire program’s full implementation back three years.

Williams photo Texas Education Agency; Perry photo Gage Skidmore

For the second year in a row, end of course exams won’t necessarily count toward 15 percent of a students’ final grade.

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced today that school districts will be allowed to apply for a waiver to the rule for the 2012-13 school year.

“You know we have to recognize that we are only in the second of the accountability system and the first year of testing,” Williams said. “There probably is some wisdom in saying, ‘Pump your brakes.’”

Shannan Muskopf/Texas Tribune

Gov. Rick Perry is expressing his support for letting school districts themselves choose whether to implement a rule that requires new state assessments to count for 15 percent of high school students' final grades.

In a written statement Thursday — the first time the governor has publicly weighed in on the issue —  Perry praised legislation filed by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, that would leave the decision up to local school districts. He also asked Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams to defer the state's rollout of the rule until the next school year.

Rune Mathisen, Texas Tribune

A UT professor has released research that could be a big problem for state testing.

Walter Stroup is a UT professor in charge of a pilot math program for middle school students in Dallas. The Texas Tribune writes that Stroup and two other researchers have compiled studies on the TAKS standardized test, which they say demonstrates an error related to the statistical method used to assemble the tests – suggesting that the tests are essentially useless at measuring effective classroom instruction.

Education company Pearson has a $468 million contract to write the state’s standardized tests through 2015. It is also responsible for the controversial STAAR test.

STAAR Retesting Begins Today

Students across Texas who didn’t pass subjects of the STAAR exam will begin retaking the tests today.

Last year’s ninth-graders were the only students who had to pass the tests to graduate on time as seniors. Next year, the passing requirement will affect both ninth and tenth-graders. The STAAR test will continue to phase-in to each grade, eventually completely replacing the TAKS test.

Also starting next year, the STAAR exam will make up 15 percent of a high school student’s final grade in a subject.

KUT News

Lawmakers to Hear Testimony on STAAR Implementation

State lawmakers will get an update today on how the rollout of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, known as STAAR, went this spring. The exam is the state’s latest school accountability test.

Figures released this month indicated that many Texas ninth graders performed poorly on the test. As the Texas Tribune previously reported, “This year, the scores on the exams don’t count toward high school students’ final grades or toward school districts’ accountability ratings. But a requirement that students retake a test if they do not achieve a minimum score remains in place.” So due to low scores, many students will retake exams this summer.