AUSTIN, Texas — High school students across Texas took their US history STAAR tests today. It is the first time in a couple of years that the STAAR has been administered in a normal setting – many were canceled in 2020 and last year, a large number of remote learning students opted -out by not showing up for the in-person tests.
If the statewide math proficiency scores released last month are any indication, Texas could be in for a rough time with this year’s STAAR scores. “In a year that’s a pandemic, you really can’t understand what the kid is about by a singular test, but we rely on it,” said Ken Zarifis, who heads up Education Austin. He is not a fan of STAAR, to begin with. He opts his own kids out. He says teachers have had their hands full getting kids back on track this year. “You’re going to have numbers that aren’t representative of anything necessarily except this cauldron of, this mix of stress, trauma, academics.”
The Texas Education Agency compared 2021 to 2019 – and found that scores dropped significantly from elementary school through high school. “The numbers from last year shouldn’t even apply; they’re not even valid,” Zarifis said.
If you take a close look at the EOC or end-of-course STAAR exams for high school students – there are more than 20 percent drop in algebra proficiency and double-digit drops for biology and US history. EOCs are required for graduation. They can be met in other ways, but many kids take the STAAR.
No matter the grade – low scores can spell trouble for all k-12 schools. That is because of the A through F accountability system. Introduced in 2018 – it gives school letter grades, and the student proficiency is based on STAAR. “So, if you are an elementary or a middle school 100 percent of that domain is going to come from the STAAR performance. If you are a high school though, a portion of it is going to come from STAAR but also a portion from students graduating,” explained a video released by TEA in 2018.
So, what happens if the STAAR scores come back low again? The TEA did not respond to my request. The A-though-F accountability system rules say low scores can lead to state intervention. Zarifis says it will place even more stress on a stressed public education system. “We’re coming out of a pandemic. There is no way of calibrating this test to allow for a post-pandemic reality,” he said., adding he believes it will make the teacher retention problem even worse. I reached out to school districts today to find out how they are doing. They said they would have their responses for us on Friday.
- How many kids are taking the STAAR test versus last year?
As we have just begun the STAAR testing this week, we do not yet know how many students will participate in the STAAR tests in grades 3-12.
As a reminder, the last typical year of state assessment was in 2019. In 2020, the spring STAAR tests were canceled due to the pandemic, and in the 2021 school year, the Commissioner of Education gave families the option to send their child to school to test if families had health or safety concerns. This allowance from the Commissioner resulted in reduced participation compared to typical years.
- The math proficiency scores came out not long ago, and the statewide numbers were low. How did Leander ISD math proficiency fare compared to the rest of the state?
It is critical to point out that proficiency levels for 2021 cannot easily be compared to the state or another district without reviewing the participation rate. For example, one district may have a 95% participation rate while another district may have a 70% participation rate. The district with a 70% participation rate has almost a third of the results “missing” while the district with 95% only has 5% missing.
Leander STAAR participation: 65%
Leander STAAR proficiency in math (Approaches level or greater): 77%
- Do you anticipate a potential drop in STAAR scores this year as opposed to say, 2019?
We will not speculate at this time how our 2022 scores will compare with 2019. In reality, this is not a reasonable comparison. For example, a current 5th grade student may be taking the STAAR test for the first time in 2022 while 5th grade students in 2019 would be in their 3rd year of testing.
- For some of the high schoolers who are taking the algebra, biology and US history EOCs with their STAARs this week, what happens if they do not pass? Could the track to graduation be slowed?
Most of our students who take the Algebra I and Biology STAAR End of Course exams are 9th grade students. If they do not meet the passing standard this spring on either of the exams, they have multiple opportunities to retake the exam beginning with this summer. STAAR End of Course exams are offered each Fall (December), Spring and Summer.
For most students, US History is not taken until their 11th grade year. Again, if they do not meet the passing standard, they have other opportunities to retake the exam, beginning with this summer.
- What are administrators and teachers in LISD saying about the social and emotional impact of the last few years and how it affects learning?
Each and every child has a different story. To honor each individual, we choose to build a relationship with our students; we choose to nurture each child academically, socially and emotionally, to help them grow as an individual.