State News

Jul 8, 2013 9:06 AM

Texas Students Struggle With STAAR Again And Again

AUSTIN - Standardized test results show Texas high school students are struggling to pass, and those who fail don't fare much better when they're retested.

Thousands of students starting Monday will retake the five State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness exams they must pass to graduate: Algebra I, biology, English I and II and U.S. history. Those who haven't passed can retake the tests as many times as needed.

More than 152,000 students recently failed the English I writing test. Data from the last round of retakes show less than 14 percent of those students passed - and some of those students were taking it for the fourth time.

By comparison, more than 40 percent of the retesting students passed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, STAAR's predecessor, said Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe.

"Students are not having that much luck," Ratcliffe told the Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/18Dw96D). "That's why they ought to take any chance they can. Don't sit out the summer test, that only hurts themselves."

This year, about 10,000 Central Texas high school students are eligible for retakes - a number likely to grow over the next few years as juniors and seniors begin to take the STAAR end-of-course exams that will eventually be administered to all high school students. Those entering their sophomore year will be the first to take all five required tests.

When students fail, school districts must offer them some remedial help. However, the amount of remediation available to students varies district to district, with some offering simple test preparation classes that can be completed in a day and others offering several weeks of summer courses.

"The stakes are higher when the students know they didn't pass it the first time," said Tim Savoy, spokesman for the Hays district, which is spending $105,575 for a full-day summer school program for STAAR retesters, rather than shorter tutoring sessions. In addition, the district estimates it's spending $12,300 to administer the exams and pay proctors.

Gov. Rick Perry recently signed House Bill 5 into law, which reduced the number of STAAR end-of-course exams from 15 to five. Parents across the state had pushed back against the number of tests needed to graduate.

While districts welcome the changes, administrators said the high rate of failure for the writing exams that are components of the English tests means nearly half of high school students in the state will need to retake them. Statewide, 54 percent of students passed Writing I and 53 percent passed Writing II.

"In the long run, there will be a small amount of savings" realized by cutting the number of tests from 15 to five, said Bill Caritj, chief performance officer for the Austin school district. "However, statewide, the biggest challenge seems to be in writing, and English I and English II are still graduation requirements."

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