Static Texas scores put focus on teacher training

Children walking - KXAN file photo

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Texas education officials say they will update training for some teachers and work with educators to determine why standardized test scores for many elementary and middle school students are not improving.

The pledge follows the release Thursday of another year of mostly stagnant test scores for students in grades three through eight who took the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness.

During hearings at the state Legislature, Texas Education Agency officials have long said that whenever the state adopts a new testing system, scores go down for a number of years but eventually improve as teachers and students adjust.

Preliminary data from TEA show that overall passing rates for the 2013-2014 school year averaged 74 percent for math and 77 percent for reading. In the 2011-2012 school year when the tests were implemented, averages for the same subjects were 72 percent and 77 percent.

Scores for students across the grade levels have improved from 1 to 4 percentage points in math compared with scores from 2012. Changes in reading scores over the last three years have varied from an improvement of 2 percentage points to a 3-point drop.

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams said in a statement Thursday that the assessments are important because they identify whether a student requires early support for basic subjects.

The state can’t afford to “ignore potential issues in the lower grades with the hope that they will simply disappear for students in high school,” Williams said. “These results are telling us that our students need support now.”

TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said Friday that the agency will work with educators to understand why scores have not improved. She also said that the English/language arts training for teachers is being updated.

“We believe that will help,” she said. She added she did not have details about the changes.

Williams said that “districts that cling to test preparation, fact memorization and practice tests will not see success.” Emphasizing critical thinking skills and allowing teachers to focus on the curriculum is the path to success in future tests, he said.

Scores for writing tests improved 2 percentage points for fourth-graders from 2012 and dropped one percentage point for seventh-grade students over that same period. Results for science evaluations improved 1 percentage point from 2012 for both fifth- and eighth-graders. Scores for the social studies tests eighth-graders took improved 2 percentage points from 2012.

Tiffany Hatch, a board member for Texans Advocating Meaningful Student Assessment representing El Paso, said the state should invest more into meeting the needs of students with disabilities, those living in poverty and the large number who speak Spanish as their first language.

“If those things are not addressed, test scores are not going to change,” she said.

Bonnie Lesley, founder of Texas Kids Can’t Wait, an organization that advocates for more funding for schools, said that in most cases, schools and students that are wealthier do better in tests.

“If half of the districts in Texas are underfunded, it all goes together,” she said.

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