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STAAR debated in Austin: Senate will consider bill to give districts more local control
By Bill Conrad, email@example.com
Just one year after the state of Texas rolled out the STAAR test, legislators are receiving pressure from constituents to modify the test or do away with it altogether.
The STAAR test replaced the TAKS test in the spring of 2012. Students in grades 3-8 are tested in the same subjects they were under TAKS, but major changes were made to high school assessment. Students will now have to pass 12 end-of-course exams in order to graduate, rather than the four tests required under TAKS.
"There is near-unanimous will in the House and Senate to do away with STAAR, or at least a good portion of it," said Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney). "The constituents have spoken loudly that there is too much testing in public schools. Democrats and Republicans have heard that, so I think there will be changes."
"To judge a child or a school based on one day doesn't seem to be a very fair way of doing it," she said. "When you are doing performance reviews for employees, you look at the full range of their body of work, not just their work on one day."
Richards said the STAAR tests should serve as a starting point for student assessment, but other factors need to be looked at when determining if a student is fully prepared for life after high school. While the focus of STAAR is strictly on core classes, she said there is more to the high school experience than just math, science, English and history.
"Education is [about learning] both inside and outside the classroom," she said. "We have strong extra-curricular activities, and studies show that engagement in those programs make the students more engaged in their academic classes. They reinforce each other, so we need to make sure with all these budget cuts we don't strip away the heart of the educational system."
One of the most controversial portions of the STAAR test is a state law that requires test scores to count 15 percent of a high school student's final grade in a class. The requirement has been waived each of the past two school years, but a bill in the state Senate would change the law to allow individual school districts to decide how much, if any, the STAAR test scores count.
The bill was referred to the full Senate last week by the Senate Education Committee, but has not been voted on by the whole body.
Ken Helvey, superintendent at Allen ISD, said his district has never supported the 15 percent requirement.
"We understand the need for students to take these assessments seriously and feel the score requirement for graduation is sufficient for motivating our students," he said. "The 15 percent requirement will cause considerable issues with student grade point averages that remain the most reliable predictor of college success. We have more confidence in the teacher's assessment of 180 days of instruction than the results of one end-of-course exam."
While there may be bi-partisan support to change the STAAR test, the difficult part will be coming up with a solution once change is made, said Rep. Van Taylor (R-Plano).
"It is one thing when there is a consensus that there needs to be change, but it is another thing if there is a consensus on what the change should be," Taylor said. "Until you really see coalescence around a particular solution, it is very difficult to effect change. It is unclear to me what the answer will be."
While legislators are discussing change, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams still supports the testing model.
Last week, when Williams announced the passing rates for the spring 2012 testing period, he said the state is on the right path.
"We have set the bar higher with a more rigorous test, and our students and teachers are already on a path to meeting those higher expectations," he said in a release. "I have no doubt results in future years will continue to improve but only if our state elects to keep the focus on educating every child in every classroom in every district across Texas."
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