The Texas Education Agency on Friday said that students working on a ninth-grade level performed as expected on the new assessment tests, which some parents, teachers and school administrators have criticized as being too tough.
Early results from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, released Friday by the TEA shows varying passing rates for each subject test, from 55 percent in English writing to 83 percent in algebra I and 87 percent in biology.
“While we know there is always an adjustment period for students and teachers in a new testing program, results from the first STAAR assessments are encouraging overall, showing that students generally performed as expected or better and that educators focused intensely on the state curriculum,” Education Commissioner Robert Scott said in a news release.
Bill Hammond, president and chief executive of the Texas Association of Business, which has advocated for accountability and higher standards in public education, called the results disappointing.
"I think it’s safe to say we were all hoping for higher scores, but at least we know now how far we have to go to ensure we have college or career-ready graduates," Hammond said. "It is a long road, but if we hold our schools and superintendents accountable for improving these results, I believe they will improve."
The results released Friday were for the five subjects that a typical ninth grade student takes: biology, algebra I, world geography, and English reading and writing. (Some of the students taking the tests may not have been ninth-graders, such as an advanced eighth-grader taking algebra.) The results for grades three through eight are not expected for weeks.
The Legislature in 2009 passed a mandate to replace the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, with STAAR. The new end-of-course tests, which are longer and more rigorous, came into effect for this school year, which followed the more than $4 billion in cuts to public education funding in the last legislative session.
Critics of the new tests have said more students will fail to meet graduation requirements as a result of their being expected to perform better on harder tests. Some have also objected to the rule requiring the new assessments to count toward 15 percent of students’ final grades. In response, Scott delayed the implementation of the rule until the coming school year.
The state is also phasing in the passing requirements, steadily raising them until 2016, which is when the number of questions students must answer correctly will be final. Even the first round of tests this year required higher standards than TAKS, the education agency said in a news release.
“In Texas, we have always adopted the approach of meeting students where they are and gradually increasing the passing requirements,” said Scott, who is leaving his post next month. “We want the passing standards to be challenging, but they shouldn’t require students to make unrealistic academic gains in one year to achieve them.”
Under the final passing standards, the students’ passing rate for the five tests would have been much lower this year: 41 percent for biology, 39 percent for algebra I, 40 percent for world geography, 46 percent for reading and 34 percent for writing.