After the second year of a new assessment program, Texas students' scores on standardized tests remain roughly the same, according to data released by the Texas Education Agency on Monday.
As they did in 2012, high school students' 2013 passing rates on end-of-course exams ranged from a high of 88 percent in biology to lows of 54 and 52 percent on English I and English II writing. Math and science were still their best subjects, with passing rates in the 80s in all four subject area tests. And the most challenging state exams were still in English reading and writing — though the number of Texas students passing their ninth-grade reading exams increased by 2 percentage points, to 70 percent, marking the largest year-to-year gain.
“While we would have hoped to see an across-the-board increase in performance, the difficulty of the tests, coupled with the uncertainty of the testing program’s future, likely impacted performance this year,” Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams said in a statement. “We may find that with STAAR our performance increases gradually rather than in large bursts.”
Students who did not pass the exams will have two more opportunities to retake them.
The news comes on the same day Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation reducing the number of state exams high school students must take to graduate from 15 to five, a provision that will apply to all current high school students.
The state also released results for the second round of testing for fifth- and eigth-graders, who risk being held back under a state law banning social promotion if they perform poorly on state standardized tests. Almost one in four fifth- and eighth-graders failed their state math exams, and about one in five failed their state reading exams the first time they took them. After retaking the exams, the passage rates in reading and math for both grades climbed to near 90 percent. The remaining students have one more try at passing, in June.
“We know that we are asking more of our students and educators under the STAAR program,” Williams said. “Our students and teachers are still adjusting to the new expectations, but it is clear we must improve instruction to meet 21st century demands.”
Student performance on state standardized tests is a focus of a school finance lawsuit involving more than two-thirds of Texas school districts. During the trial, lawyers for the state said poor performance on the state exams the first time around was to be expected as schools adjusted to the new assessment system. School districts argued that they had not received enough resources to meet the new, more rigorous standards.
A state district court judge will likely soon reopen evidence in the case to consider changes made during the legislative session. Both sides may now also want to update the court's record to include how students performed on the 2013 administration of the STAAR exams.