FW early STAAR results look troubling

Posted Monday, Mar. 18, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Texas' shift to a new standardized testing regime hasn't made life simpler for anyone, it seems.

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness might even have raised the stakes on exams that already were a pressure-cooker for public school students, teachers and administrators.

The next round of STAAR tests are scheduled to be administered next week, with others in late April and high school end-of-course exams in May. These are the scores that will be used in the new accountability system being finalized by the state.

Even though a phase-in period meant no school or district ratings were issued based on 2012 STAAR results, passing rates have been posted by Pearson Education, the state's testing contractor. And for some districts, the early scores are disturbingly low.

Fort Worth trails state averages in passing rates for grades 3-8 on reading, math, writing, science and social studies. The district's highest passing rate was 72 percent for fifth-grade math, where the state average was 77 percent.

Arlington's rates are behind state averages in many categories, but not as much. Smaller suburban districts in Tarrant County far exceeded state averages on those core subjects, Star-Telegram writers Jessamy Brown and Shirley Jinkins reported in a story published Sunday.

In that report, Fort Worth Deputy Superintendent Michael Sorum pointed out that Fort Worth's scores were consistent with other urban districts.

And it's true that the suburban districts typically receive more state funding per pupil while having considerably fewer low-income students, which can be factors in how well-prepared children are when they start school and how many educational resources they have outside the classroom.

The Fort Worth district's enrollment is 60 percent Hispanic, 23 percent African American and 13.7 percent white, with almost 78 percent of students considered economically disadvantaged and 28 percent with limited English.

STAAR exams are designed to be more challenging than the previous generation of tests. As students get more acclimated this year, it's reasonable to expect improvement.

The shift to STAAR also involves a revamped system of rating districts and individual schools on a "performance index" that takes into account more factors, including a breakdown by more ethnic groups.

The rating system still is being developed, so 2013 ratings to be announced in August focus on test passing rates, how well performance gaps are being closed and high schoolers' postsecondary readiness.

That should offer a clearer picture of where progress is being made -- and isn't.

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