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Texas Education Agency: STAAR system minimizes issues revealed with previous testing regime
By Andrew Kreighbaum
Officials at the Texas Education Agency believe a new testing system, introduced in 2012, will mitigate issues with the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test revealed by investigations into cheating at El Paso Independent School District and other districts.
State law previously required only that students pass the 11-grade TAKS test in order to graduate, meaning districts could manipulate student grade classification for the 10th-grade test that determined federal accountability ratings without affecting graduation rates.
No such opportunity exists in the new testing system which replaces those grade-level tests with five subject matter "end-of-course" tests — U.S. history, biology, Algebra, English I and English II — that students must pass at some point in their high school career before graduating.
The high school tests are part of a testing program now known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, used to measure student performance at elementary, middle and high school levels.
TEA Associate Commissioner for Assessment and Accountability Criss Cloudt also said tying graduation in the STAAR testing regime to passage on subject matter tests will address issues connected to improper promotion or retention of students.
The federal Department of Education audit report last year of TEA's internal controls over student test data raised questions about whether the state was doing enough to protect against manipulation or cheating on the new STAAR system.
"Although TEA eliminated the potential impact of grade-level reclassifications on test results for students who were ninth-grade students beginning with school year 2011–2012, it had not assessed the possibility that (local education agencies) and schools might influence STAAR test results in other ways," the audit found. "For example, a school potentially could improve its test results in a given year by either preventing low-performing students from taking these courses during that year or encouraging high-achieving students from multiple grades to take these courses during that year."
In a response to the concerns raised in that audit, Texas Education Commissioner Michael L. Williams said the agency agreed it should do more to identify how districts and schools could improperly influence the results of the new test. Identifying the specific steps the agency will take would apparently come later, however, after the state reviewed the implementation of new testing policies this school year.
"While any additional policies or controls may be implemented as soon as winter 2013 or spring 2014, it is likely these activities will be ongoing as other components are added to the accountability system over the next several years, and as changes are made to the state assessment system as a result of legislation passed during the most recent Texas legislative session," Williams wrote.
Cloudt said the state is using new indicators to track how many students complete a given course each year at districts and campuses and how many take the associated test.
TEA is also taking steps to ensure students don't reach their senior year without passing the appropriate subject level tests. The agency is also working with some local districts to tie grade level promotion to specific subject tests like Algebra I.