STAAR Testing Regime Begins to Replace TAKS—Questions and Answers from TEA

Despite making deep cuts in state funding for public education, totaling more than $5.4 billion over the next two years (or more than $500 per pupil), the folks in the driver’s seat at the state capitol adamantly insisted on pressing forward with a “new, improved” system of standardized testing. The aim of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) is to make state tests harder than under the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). School districts and classroom educators are now struggling to deal with the dilemma the legislature has handed them—higher-than-ever demands from the state for student achievement combined with sharply reduced resources available to reach those goals. Many specific questions about how to implement the law also are just now being addressed.

The Texas Education Agency has come up with a Web site (http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/staar/) to help keep track of what’s going on, though it doesn’t have answers for some key questions, such as how exactly the STAAR end-of-course exams will figure in computing student grades for tested subjects in high school.

Here are some notable excerpts from the TEA STAAR Web site:

“Beginning in spring 2012, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR™) will replace the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). The STAAR program at grades 3–8 will assess the same subjects and grades that are currently assessed on TAKS. At high school, however, grade-specific assessments will be replaced with 12 end-of-course (EOC) assessments: Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, biology, chemistry, physics, English I, English II, English III, world geography, world history, and U.S. history.

“The resources on this website provide information and sample test questions to familiarize Texas educators and the public with the design and format of the STAAR assessments. The information is intended to help educators understand how the new STAAR program measures the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards. These resources are intended to support, not narrow or replace, the teaching of the TEKS curriculum.”

Note: The ninth-grade class of 2011-2012 is the first high-school cohort that will have to meet the graduation requirements of the STAAR testing system. Academic performance of students in tenth grade or higher this year will continue to be gauged under the TAKS system.

Featured on the TEA Web site is a question-and-answer document (http://www.txetests.com/faqs/staar_8_26_11.pdf), published August 26, 2011, that seems to have raised as many questions as it has answered, especially with regard to the interplay between end-of-course exams and a student’s grade and course credit for the subject tested.  Here are two key questions and answers posted by TEA on this topic:

“14. How are the STAAR EOC [end-of-course] assessments related to course grades?

The score a student receives on a STAAR EOC assessment is required to count for 15% of the student’s final grade in the course. Since grading policies are determined locally and TEA lacks statutory authority in this area, districts should establish local policies to implement this statutory requirement. For the STAAR English I, II, and III assessments, which have a separate reading and writing component, districts have discretion over how the scores from each component are used to calculate the 15% grading requirement. TEA is not planning to provide a method by which scale scores can be converted into grading systems because of wide variations in grading policy from district to district.

There is no corresponding requirement for students taking a modified or alternate assessment, so districts are not required to count STAAR Modified or STAAR Alternate EOC assessment scores as 15% of a student’s final course grade.

“15. If a student has a passing grade in a course before the EOC score is calculated but a failing grade once the EOC score is included, can the student still be given credit for the course?

No. TAC [Texas Administrative Code] §74.26(c), regarding credit for high school graduation, stipulates that ‘credit for courses for high school graduation may be earned only if the student received a grade which is the equivalent of 70 on a scale of 100, based upon the essential knowledge and skills for each course.’ A student whose final grade for a course is less than the equivalent of a 70 on a scale of 100 may not be given credit for that course, since by law the grade must include the student’s score on the EOC assessment. Districts retain the same options that have always been available: (a) to use summer school or other remediation for purposes of allowing the student to reach a passing grade for the course or (b) to take the EOC assessment in subsequent administrations to increase that portion of the final grade.”

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