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Amid STAAR Test Backlash, School Performance is Mixed

More Texas school districts and charter schools are failing in 2016, though the number of individual campuses that received that label decreased.

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Editor's Note: This story has been updated throughout. 

The number of Texas school districts and charter schools considered failing under the state’s accountability system increased slightly in 2016, though the number of individual campuses that received that label decreased somewhat, according to ratings the Texas Education Agency released Monday.

Last year, 55 school districts and charters — or 4.5 percent  fell under the failing, or “improvement required” category; this year, it’s 66, or 5.5 percent. Forty-four of those failing are traditional school districts, while 22 are charter schools. 

At the same time, the number of individual campuses labeled as failing fell to 467 in 2016, from 603 last year.

The accountability ratings — in which schools are generally labeled “met standard” or “improvement required” — are based mostly on how students perform on the controversial state-required STAAR exams, a rigorous testing regime implemented in 2012.

The number of schools considered failing has dropped somewhat since then. In 2013, 75 schools were labeled improvement required; in 2014, it was 110. 

Search accountability ratings by school district here.

School officials statewide called on Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath not to rate schools based on this year's scores — the result of widespread logistical and technical problems with exam administration under a new testing vendor. That included a computer glitch that caused more than 14,000 students to lose their answers.

The exams affected by those testing issues were not included in the ratings. And Morath opted to drop requirements that this year's fifth- and eighth-graders be held back if they didn't pass.

But he has suggested the issues were not widespread enough to warrant scrapping the accountability system altogether. 

Bill Hammond, the CEO of the Texas Association of Business, which believes the state's testing and accountability system is not rigorous enough, compared the ratings to "first grade soccer where every kid gets a trophy."

"School districts are meeting standards just by having kids show up," he said, noting that Morath has acknowledged that only 30 percent of students graduate high school prepared for college or to enter the workforce.

"Even a third grader would know that these two numbers just don’t add up."

Starting next school year, the state will transition to an accountability system that assigns school districts — and campuses — A-through-F letter grades based on academic performance. The new system aims to decrease the reliance on test scores by accounting for other factors like attendance and graduation rates. 

Check out more reporting on the STAAR test and the state's accountability system:  

  • A special panel recommending changes to the state’s public school testing and accountability system stopped short of proposing that Texas scrap the controversial assessment regime known as STAAR. 
  • After the state decided standardized test results for 5th and 8th graders were unreliable, it said failing students didn't have to retake the tests to advance a grade. But districts were given wide discretion on what to do next.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here

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