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Legislative, State Action Could Impact STAAR Testing

Texas schools will not find out their 2013 state ratings until August, but already a major legislative bill under consideration and the anticipated release of new rules that dictate how the state will calculate and evaluate the test results could have a major impact on the accountability system for Texas schools.  

Such uncertainty creates moving targets for school districts, but the Austin Independent School District began preparing for the more rigorous test before it was first administered to ninth-graders last year, and AISD is closely monitoring developments at the Texas Capitol and the Texas Education Agency, said Bill Caritj, the district’s chief performance officer. 

Caritj discussed the state’s accountability system in 2013 and beyond during a presentation this week to members of AISD’s UpClose program. The program gives citizens an insider’s look into district offices, services and programs by hosting monthly meetings that feature guest speakers. 

Caritj, who oversees the district’s Office of Accountability and Assessment, said school districts will know more about how the state will evaluate schools and districts when Texas Education Commissioner Michael L. Williams releases his final decision on a complex set of rules that will be used to calculate and evaluate the scores. Williams’ decision is expected in April. 

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) replaced the state’s former standardized test (TAKS) and is thought to be significantly tougher.  

Once STAAR was first proposed, AISD rewrote its student benchmarks to help ensure students were prepared. 

“We changed the way we think about the curriculum,” Caritj said. “It’s always a bit of a balance because we want to make sure our students do well and are prepared for state assessments, but we also want to continue building a world-class curriculum that prepares them for college, and provides them with 21st century skills. Our curriculum today does both, and is very rigorous.”

Students in the ninth-grade and below were the first to take the more rigorous test last year, and this year will include tenth graders for the first time. Testing for those students begins April 1.

Campus and district ratings will be determined based on how students score on four indices: student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps, and postsecondary readiness. 

Under the state’s new accountability system, Caritj said there is a greater emphasis on postsecondary-readiness than in years past. However, it is still unclear how all four categories will be combined to rate a campus and district.

Scores for each of the four categories will range from 0-100, and be considered collectively to determine ratings. 

STAAR is being rolled out in three phases over 2012 through 2016 and beyond. For most test subjects, the final standards are significantly higher than those in the first two phases. For instance, eighth grade students taking the STAAR reading test in 2012 had to score 52 percent correct or higher to receive a satisfactory rating on the test. That number jumps to 65 percent in phase II in 2014 and 75 percent in the final phase, which begins in 2016. 

Caritj said the minimum score students must achieve varies among subjects and grades. The same eighth grader taking the STAAR math exam must score only 39 percent or higher in phase I, compared to the 52 percent score he or she would have to achieve in Phase 1 reading. 

Earlier this week, the Texas House voted to approve House Bill 5, which would reduce the number of end-of-course exams that students must pass in order to graduate from 15 to five. The required tests would be algebra, biology, U.S. history and 10th grade reading and writing. 

Another piece of legislation that lawmakers are weighing would eliminate the current requirement for schools to count STAAR end-of-course exams as 15 percent of a student’s course grade.

Caritj said the major tasks that still must be determined include deciding on statewide safeguards and interventions for schools with low performance, low test attendance or excessive use of the STAAR-Modified or STAAR-Alternate test. 

TEA is also working to finalize the minimum number of students needed in order to be counted as a “student group.” The state is considering a minimum number of 25. Under STAAR’s assessment category to close performance gaps, students who are economically disadvantaged always count as a group, as do students who are among the lowest performing race/ethnicity student groups for a district and for each campus based on their test performance the previous year. 

To view Caritj’s presentation, click here