STAAR Tests: More harm than good?

AUSTIN (KXAN) — While most students enjoy time off during the summer, thousands of Texas students are waiting to find out if they have to repeat a grade, or even worse, not get a high school diploma.

In June and July, schools administered state STAAR exams to fifth and eighth graders who failed math and reading tests twice. The Round Rock Independent School District had about 300 students in summer school who were still trying to pass their exams needed to move onto the next grade.

“Obviously it probably feels a big defeating,” said Carla Amacher, the Executive Director of Elementary Education for Round Rock ISD. “We need to develop that ‘can do’ attitude and their self-esteem.”

Before the summer sessions, the testing company sends teachers detailed reports on which skills gave each student the most trouble. With just 10 students per class, teachers can give them more attention and design lessons to meet their needs.

“This morning I was in a classroom and she was calling herself a coach working with the kids to get ready for the big game,” said Amacher.

But the reality is this could be the third strike. History has shown in Round Rock only a third of students pass on the third try.

When it comes to statewide results for the 2013-2014 school year, 24-percent of fifth graders failed the reading test and 21-percent failed the math test on the first try. Students are required to pass the math and reading tests in fifth and eighth grade to move up a grade.

In eighth grade, 21-percent of students failed the math test and 18-percent failed the reading portion of the test.

5th Grade Math 21 % failed – 75,034 students
5th Grade Reading 24 % failed – 82,165 students
8th Grade Math 21 % failed – 62,628 students
8th Grade Reading 18 % failed – 62,094 students

Deborah Hines’ son was one of 62,094 eighth graders who failed the reading portion of the test. We met her dropping him off at Austin ISD’s Burnet Middle School on re-test day.

“We’ll just see how it goes and we just pray,” said Hines. As an ex-school teacher, she believes some kids just aren’t good test takers.

“You have to have something I know that, but to make it to a point where you keep a child back especially if their grades are passing then something is wrong,” said Hines.

If Deborah’s son does not pass, his teachers and the principal will meet to decide if he should go on to ninth grade or be held back. That’s the process for every student who fails three times. Once students are in high school, they still have to pass five end-of-course exams or they won’t get a diploma.

Next month, state lawmakers who put the testing rules in place will meet at the State Capitol to weigh the latest STAAR results and consider possible legislation to improve the testing system.

“We’re coming up with possible strategies before they hit the wall and don’t graduate,” said State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen. He was instrumental in writing House Bill 5 which lowered the number of end-of-course exams from 15 to five.

“My guess is 40 to 50-percent wouldn’t be on track to grad without House Bill 5,” said Aycock.

Aycock told KXAN it is troubling that three years after implementing the STAAR exam, there has been very little improvement in the results. He said under previous testing systems students made drastic gains after the initial year of testing.

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