24% yet to pass STAAR
Three-quarters of juniors successful in end-of-course tests needed to graduate
By TERRENCE STUTZ
AUSTIN — Nearly one-fourth of high school juniors in Texas are in jeopardy of not graduating in 2015 because they have not yet passed the end-of-course exams required to earn a diploma.
The Texas Education Agency reported Tuesday that about 76 percent of the 309,000 students in the class of 2015 have passed four of the five STAAR end-of-course tests that are a requirement for graduation: Algebra I, biology, English I and English II.
Most juniors will take a fifth test, in U.S. history, this spring.
There have been three testing dates
for 11th-graders — in spring, summer and fall 2013 — and Education Commissioner Michael Williams offered a special exemption.
It allowed some students who failed either the reading or writing test in English I or English II to pass if they had a high enough combined score on reading and writing.
In all, 44,350 students who did not pass both English I reading and writing passed because of the commissioner’s “transition” rule. A total of 34,547 students who did not pass both English II reading and writing were exempted.
If not for the commissioner’s decision, those nearly 79,000 students would be included among those who still have not passed in English I and II.
Williams based his exemption on the fact that the Legislature voted last year to merge the separate reading and writing exams into one test each for English I and English II. The single tests in each subject will debut in the spring.
“We should be proud that the majority of high school students in Texas continue to successfully complete the end-of-course assessments now required for graduation,” Williams said Tuesday. “With fewer assessments and greater flexibility … Texans should expect those numbers to continue to improve.”
Cutting out tests
The Legislature also voted to eliminate 10 of the 15 end-of-course tests required for graduation. The action came in response to complaints from school districts and parents. They said that students were spending too much time preparing for high-stakes exams.
Legislators also worried about studies indicating that tens of thousands of students would not graduate if they had to pass 15 exams. So they eliminated the more difficult tests for Algebra II, geometry, English III, chemistry, physics, geography and world history.
Students have three opportunities per year to pass each exam that’s still required. And the students’ difficulties come even though the passing standards for the initial years of the tests were set low.
Students had to correctly answer only 37 percent of the questions to pass in Algebra I and biology, with about half the questions required for English I and II reading. Cutoff scores were just above 60 percent for the two writing exams.
End of TAKS
High school seniors graduating in 2014 are the last group of students still taking the state’s previous graduation test, the TAKS. Last spring, about 1 in 20 students from the class of 2013 was unable to pass the TAKS. They did not receive a diploma with their classmates.
State education officials have been concerned about the low passing rates on some of the STAAR end-of-course exams. But they point out that the STAAR is more rigorous than the old TAKS test.
For example, while the TAKS required students to write a personal narrative essay, the STAAR calls on students to write expository and persuasive essays.
Minority students have generally lagged behind whites on the end-of-course tests. For example, in English I writing last fall, only 12 percent of black students and 14 percent of Hispanics passed, while 22 percent of white students got a passing score. Other exams had similar gaps.
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Twitter at @t_stutz.