Testing in Texas Shows Encouraging Results

At a time when the use of student standardized test scores for teacher evaluations is hotly debated, Texas reports some welcome good news. According to Ericka Mellon of the Houston Chronicle, elementary and middle school students have passed the state's mandatory test with flying colors.

It was especially welcome news considering that last summer, reports were much less optimistic from the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness:

Results from the high school exams were released last summer. The scores were much worse than those in the lower grades and prompted widespread calls for reducing high-stakes testing. High school students must pass 15 end-of-course exams to graduate under current law.

The state's Education Commissioner urged the public and legislators not to move too quickly to undo the testing plans instituted last year. Acknowledging that they're in a transition period, he recommended patience and not panicking:

We have to hold the line, and all of us need to show a little courage in this thing called accountability," Williams said at an education conference in Austin. "There is a raging conversation going on about how many tests a youngster has to take, what courses it ought to be in. I would urge us: Park our brakes and slow down. Let's get through this transition period."

70% of elementary and middle schools students passed 14 of the 17 STAAR tests. The more encouraging scores from lower grades may have been due, partly, to softer expectations with new curriculum and testing. 8th graders were permitted to pass with slightly less than half of the required social studies questions. Even so, their scores were not stellar, as only 59% passed. Reading tests required a bit more than half right answers, and 80% of the 8th graders passed. But administrators are pleased to get such good results even in the first year of implementation of the new program.

Houston's city district had the lowest scores. Although 76% passed the 8th grade reading test, only 53% of Houston's lower school students passed the challenging social studies test. The same percentage of 7th graders passed their required math test.

"These results show us that many of Houston's students are progressing at a pace that will have them prepared to succeed in college and in the workplace when they graduate," HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said in a statement. "But we also see that too many students are trailing academically. We must continue acting with a sense of urgency to help our principals and teachers raise the level of rigor in every classroom."

Some high school students, who produced the discouraging results released last summer, were permitted to retake the STAAR tests. Their scores improved substantially. 9th grade writing tests raised the passing percentage from just over half to 73%.

In the 5th and 8th grades, Texas has usually used the scores from high-stakes testing to help determine which students would pass to the next grade or be retained. This year, aware that the STAAR tests were significantly more challenging than the previous tests, the state suspended this use of scores.

Texas ranks last among the nation's states for rate of high school graduation. Its standing for producing college graduates is somewhat better, at #30, but it is clear that Texas educators have a long way to go in pulling their state up.

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