Texas Students Who Failed Tests Still Promoted to Next Grade

Even though 76,000 Texas students in the fifth and eighth grades did not pass the STAAR math or reading tests on the third try this summer, most were promoted to the next grade level.

11% of fifth-graders failed reading and 9% failed math tests, while eighth-grades across Texas saw 9% of students failing reading and 11% fail math. Other grade levels were tested, but 5th and 8th grades are considered most important because, according to state law, students must pass the math and reading sections to be moved to the next grade level.

Terrence Stutz of The Dallas Morning News says that Education Commissioner Michael Williams suspended the promotion requirement in math for fifth and eighth-graders for the school year 2014-2015.  Students will still have to pass the reading requirements to move on.

“For the 2014-15 school year, districts will use other relevant academic information to make promotion or retention decisions for mathematics,” Williams said.

Fifth-grade test failures accounted for 17% of black students and 14% of Hispanic students, compared with 5% of white students.  In eighth-grade, 13% of black and Hispanic students failed in reading, compared with 4% of white students.  In math, however, 18% of black students failed.  

Nicole Luna of the Cleburne Times-Review writes that Williams notified school districts that the final recommended STAAR standards will be in place in the 2021-2022 school year.  Members of the Texas Senate education committee questioned that lack of progress toward implementing the stricter standards.

“There are 70 separate validity studies associated with the variety of STAAR exams,” Williams said. “And so I am hard pressed to quibble with the quality of the exam. I do think that what we have done as a state is to say we have raised the bar significantly, and we are charging districts and their staffs to jump to that level.”

Williams and others say that the problem is that teachers are not doing a good enough job at preparing students for the exam.

In an editorial written by The Dallas Morning News, the question is: Does Texas have the right architecture in place to properly educate 5 million public school students?

“The tougher STAAR regimen needs to be mastered, but it will take longer for many districts to get there. While they work toward that goal, the state should develop a new approach to annual accountability reports. It’s not useful to say a campus or district met standards if that means they’re meeting them today but are headed for trouble in a few years. The specter of the tougher standards should be built into annual school report cards.”

Linda Simpson of Plano wrote in a letter to the editor of The Dallas Morning News that setting one track for all students is a mistake.  For those students who need to hone their skills for the workplace — not college — schools should create another track.  She adds that no school should promote a student who cannot read.  We need to stop leaving children behind.

Lois Parrott, full-time professor at Richland College, quotes Highland Independent School District Superintendent Dawson Orr in his testimony to the senate committee, when he said:

” I reject the state’s claim that the STAAR passing standards even connect with a college-ready track.”

She agrees with Orr that some students who do not perform well on the STAAR tests are measured as high-achieving students by other measures.