Texas Education Agency Delays Critical Math Test

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced that this year’s fifth and eighth graders will not have to pass a high-stakes math assessment given at the end of the school year.

New curriculum standards for mathematics were initiated in the state in the spring of 2012 as part of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the statewide curriculum standards, but the system was not without flaws.

“There are substantial challenges associated with implementation of the revised mathematics statewide curriculum standards in the STAAR grades 3–8 assessments,” Education Commissioner Michael Williams wrote. “For the 2014–2015 school year, districts will use other relevant academic information to make promotion or retention decisions for mathematics.”

For only this year, students get a free pass on the state math exam, although they will still be required to pass the reading exam.  Due to performance standards for the test not being set until the spring of 2015, the exam will only be offered once this year.  The May and June offerings will be suspended.

Although the announcement officially came last week, Williams had previously suggested to districts to use other “relevant academic information to make promotion or retention decisions” in math for this coming year.

Students will still take the math exam this year, but the Student Success Initiative (SSI) will be suspended.  In other words, their moving on to the next grade will not be dependent on receiving a passing grade.

Last year’s students collectively did not do well on the exam, with only 40% of eighth graders and 45% of fifth graders passing.  According to the promotion law, students have three opportunities to pass the exams before being held back.

This is not the first time students have been allowed to graduate to the next grade without passing the exam.  The first time was in 2012 when the new state assessment system was put in place.

Coincidentally, the TEA has also delayed the initiation of higher passing standards for the new state exams, STAAR.  According to the TEA, if the standards were in place last year, only 14% of fifth graders and 9% of eighth graders would have passed.

“While I firmly believe that our students are capable of reaching the high expectations reflected in the TEKS and the STAAR performance standards, moving to a three-step phase-in plan gives educators additional time to make the significant adjustments in instruction necessary to raise the level of performance of all Texas students,” Williams said in a statement on Thursday announcing the decision.

Critics of the decision believe that the delays will cause students to perform poorly in their academic work.

“The standard needed to pass these tests is already very low and the commissioner has just lowered that passing standard to zero,” said Bill Hammond, the Texas Association of Business’ chief executive officer. “This is another example of going back on high standards, even if it is just for this school year.”

The new math curriculum will be taught for the first time this year.