TEA Touts Students End-of-Course Exam Success

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High school students showed success on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) End-of-Course (EOC) exams. The exams are part of the state’s newest student accountability testing plan as mandated by lawmakers last year. STAAR replaced the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test that had been in place for about 11 years. Lawmakers say STARR raises the academic bar for students.

The good news among high school students is tempered with word that passing standards for STAAR tests given to elementary and middle school students have not yet been established. And probably will not be available until January 2013.

According to DeEtta Culbertson, TEA spokesperson, officials know how many questions each elementary and middle school student answered correctly, but have not determined what will be considered a passing score. Unlike with the EOC exams taken by high school students, it is more difficult to draw links to other assessments for STAAR exams, says Culbertson.

Campuses and districts have a sense of their degree of success by studying data showing how many questions each of their students answered correctly. What educators are looking at is how their students scored compared to the state averages, says Culbertson. However, the scores will not have meaning until the passing standards are set.

While this was the first year for EOC exams and state officials could not compare them to previous tests, high school passing standards were established through comparison to other tests. According to TEA information, the performance standards for STAAR EOC exams were based on recommendations made by standard-setting committees. These committees were composed of educators from kindergarten through 12th grade, higher education faculty, policy experts, legislative staff, and business leaders. To make their determinations, these committees drew links between the EOC exams and other assessments such as college entrance exams and the TAKS test. Culbertson says because the EOC exams were developed to meet a higher level of rigor and, as predictors of college rediness, correlations could be drawn between them and tests taken by students seeking college entrance, such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the American College Test.

Phased In

Just as with all past standardized tests given by the state, TEA plans to phase in passing standards with increases each year, says Culbertson. The purpose of this extended phase-in is to provide students and educators sufficient time to adjust to the increased rigor of the assessments and higher performance expectations, according to TEA. The 2012-2013 school year will bring increases ranging from 6 to 9 percent in the passing standards. The final adjustment to the passing standard is planned to come in 2016. By 2016 “you’re looking at every campus and district trying to meet (what is currently considered) exemplary status,” says Culbertson.

As an example, Culbertson points to the EOC biology exam. While 87 percent of students taking the 2012 exam passed, if they had been going by the passing standard planned for 2016, only 41 percent of students would have passed, explains Culbertson. In Algebra 1, 83 percent of students across the state taking the exam passed, with only 39 percent passing by 2016 standards. In world geography the difference is 81 percent to 40 percent by 2016 standards and in English the percent passing would be 55 today compared to 39 percent by future standards.

Adequate Yearly Progress

Campuses and districts are also able to rate their success by their annual Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) rating. This rating is based on provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Districts, campuses and the state are required to meet AYP criteria on three measures: reading/language arts, mathematics and either graduation rate (for elementary and middle/junior high school), according to TEA officials.

While passing rates for EOC exams brought success to districts across the state, AYP ratings brought little to cheer about. Across the state only 44 percent of campuses met AYP for grades 3-8 and 10, while only 28 percent of the states’ school districts met AYP standard.

Without set passing standards for elementary and middle school STAAR tests, AYP standards were more difficult to determine. To accomplish this, state education officials conducted a bridge study to draw correlations between the STAAR and TAKS tests. “They used the met standard passing standard for TAKS and aligned it to the STAAR to come up with AYP,” Culbertson says.

There are consequences for districts and campuses not meeting AYP standard. “If a campus, district or state that is receiving Title I, Part A funds fails to meet AYP for two consecutive years, that campus, district, or state is subject to certain requirements such as offering supplemental education services, offering school choice and/or taking corrective actions,” according to TEA. Visit http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/ayp/2012/distcampfinal12.pdf  to see how San Antonio area school districts faired.

Gina Vera is a San Antonio freelance writer and mother of one.

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