Fort Worth struggles on STAAR tests

Posted Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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To learn more

State, district and campus results from the spring 2012 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) are posted online by Pearson Education, which developed the test.

Here is the link for Assessment Summary Results:

bit.ly/UYmDmN

Under "Find PDF Reports by," click the appropriate bubble to get results by state, district or campus.

Click "show search," type in the entity's name, click the search box, and click on the name when it comes up.

Under "report title," click on "March STAAR Grades 5 and 8 Reading/Math" and "Spring STAAR Grades 3-8"

For high school students, click "Spring STAAR End-of-Course."

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FORT WORTH -- If the Fort Worth school district received a grade for the percentage of students who passed the first round of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests taken in March and April 2012, its progress report might show a D, according to data from the state's testing contractor.

Slightly more than half the students in elementary and middle schools passed the STAAR tests, and their passing rates were lower in all grade levels than those of their peers statewide.

Public and charter school students across Texas took the more rigorous standardized tests in reading, writing, math, science and social studies.

Data recorded by Pearson Education, the state's testing contractor, show that passing rates for Fort Worth students were in the 50s and 60s on nearly all the tests, except for fifth-grade math (72 percent).

The lowest scores in Fort Worth were on the eighth-grade social studies test, with a passing rate of 48 percent, according to Pearson.

Across the state, passing rates in most subject areas were 70 percent or higher, except for third- and fourth-grade math, in which students posted passing rates of 68 percent.

The lowest scores in the state were in social studies, with eighth-graders posting a 59 percent passing rate.

Michael Sorum, Fort Worth's deputy superintendent for leadership, learning and student support services, said administrators are pleased that the district's results are similar to those of other urban school districts and noted that middle school math scores were "relatively strong" in relation to other districts.

The Fort Worth passing rate on the math test was 67 percent for sixth-graders, 58 percent for seventh-graders and 59 percent for eighth-graders.

In Dallas schools, for example, the passing rate was 66 percent for sixth-graders, 60 percent for seventh-graders and 52 percent for eighth-graders.

"Of course, we will never be happy until every child reaches standard. However, we now know what our goals are and we will continue to strive to reach them," Sorum said.

Administrators and teachers said the STAAR scores from last year will help them prepare for the next round of testing, which begins the first week of April.

"Of course, we didn't wait for results to come in," Sorum said, adding that the district received preliminary data a year ago.

"We have worked proactively for the last few years since we received the STAAR blueprints. We are well-positioned to continue improving, and our teachers and principals are working hard to do so."

Cynthia Wortham, who has daughters in sixth and eighth grades at Fort Worth's Young Women's Leadership Academy, said that she wasn't sure what to expect on the first STAAR test but that the girls did "relatively well," performing above average on some portions.

"It gave me a good guideline to find out where they were. It's another tool for them to use," she said. "I do think it is a base line for where your skills are, where your strengths are and what you need to work on."

In Arlington schools, third- through eighth-grade passing rates hovered in the 60s and 70s. Eighth-graders had a passing rate of 80 percent in reading, 75 percent in math and 61 percent in social studies.

"The scores were just about what we expected from an accountability and research perspective," said Wallace Carter, the Arlington district's director of accountability and testing.

Lessons learned

Teachers say they are better equipped to help students succeed this time around. Administrators in districts across North Texas have been studying the passing rates to identify areas that need improvement.

The districts did not receive results until January, about nine months after the exams were taken, because the state had not finalized passing standards.

On Tuesday, Texas Education Commissioner Michael L. Williams said the state will release questions from the April 2013 tests in August, a year earlier than scheduled, to give teachers and administrators more information as they prepare for the 2014 test.

"As we have rolled out the STAAR assessments, some have viewed the inability to see the actual tests as a reason to invalidate the entire process," Williams said in a statement.

"I have heard those concerns and am accelerating the release of all the assessments while maintaining the validity of results for the upcoming spring administration."

The Arlington district is preparing for the upcoming tests with a broad-based approach that includes working with students in small groups and using results from last year to identify areas where students performed poorly.

In Keller, sixth-graders at Parkwood Hill Intermediate School have been studying poems with a critical eye as they prepare for the reading test. Poetry makes up 30 percent of the students' reading exam.

Glenda Kemmerling-Wilson, a language arts teacher, said students are focusing on a poem's title, looking at how stanzas are put together and studying graphics to determine what the author is trying to convey.

"The [2012] test gave me a new direction of how to plan and how to prepare my students to read critically. For the STAAR, it's all high-level critical-thinking skills and analysis," she said.

"We were able to analyze those scores and pinpoint where our overall weaknesses are so we can target specific skills."

Standards unchanged

Under STAAR, children in third through eighth grades take tests in the same core subjects that were measured by the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Students in grades three through eight are tested in math and reading. Writing is added in grades four and seven. Science is added in fifth grade and eighth grade, and social studies in eighth grade.

Students in kindergarten through second grade are not tested.

The state is phasing out the TAKS for high school students and replacing it with STAAR end-of-course exams akin to course finals. This year, freshmen and sophomores will take those tests.

The standards for passing the spring 2013 tests will remain the same for grades three through eight. But under a four-year, two-step phase-in, standards will become more rigorous for the 2014 and 2015 tests, and the final, most difficult standard will be in place by 2016.

If scores on the 2012 tests were held to the 2016 standard, only 39 percent of third-graders statewide would have passed the reading test, 32 percent of fourth-graders would have passed the math test and 34 percent of fifth-graders would have passed the science test.

In Tarrant County, only 18 percent of Fort Worth students and 37 percent of Arlington students would have passed the eighth-grade math test under the tougher standard.

"The state builds in a phase-in period for teachers and districts to become familiar with the new and higher expectations of STAAR," Sorum said.

"There are always lots of unknowns when moving from one testing system to another."

The STAAR differs from TAKS in some ways. The STAAR tests have more questions that require students to provide an answer rather than selecting the best choice from a list.

And unlike the TAKS, the STAAR is timed.

The tests are scored in three performance categories:

Level I is unsatisfactory academic performance, meaning the student did not pass and is not prepared for the next grade or course.

Level II is satisfactory academic performance, meaning the student passed and is prepared to move on.

Level III is advanced performance.

A requirement that fifth- and eighth-graders pass the reading and math tests before moving to the next grade was suspended for the 2012 STAAR.

But it will be in place this year.

Students who don't pass reading and math will have two additional chances to pass.

If the student is unsuccessful after three attempts, a parent meeting will be called to determine how to proceed, said DeEtta Culbertson, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326

Twitter: @jessamybrown

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @shirljinkins

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