Texas students achieved high passing rates on most of the state's new standardized tests, but their scores would have been much lower had the final standards been in effect.
State education officials released results Friday for the first round of end-of-course State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests, which students -- beginning with those who just finished their freshman year -- must pass in each grade before they can graduate.
Statewide, 87 percent of students who took the Biology I test passed, 83 percent passed Algebra I and 81 percent passed world geography.
On the English I reading test, 68 percent passed. On the writing test, which required students to write a literary essay and an expository essay, 55 percent passed.
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However, if students had had to meet the final passing standards, which will be in effect by 2016, only about 40 percent of students would have passed algebra, biology and world geography. In English, only 46 percent would have passed the reading portion and 34 percent the writing test.
"While we know there is always an adjustment period for students and teachers in a new testing program, results from the first STAAR assessments are encouraging overall, showing that students generally performed as expected or better and that educators focused intensely on the state curriculum," Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott said in a news release.
Math and science have long been the most difficult tests for students statewide, and the passing standards set by the Texas Education Agency for those two tests were lower than for reading and writing.
For example, students taking the Algebra I tests were required to answer 17 of 54 questions correctly, or 31 percent, to pass. English I reading test takers needed at least 27 of 56 questions correct, or 48 percent, to pass.
By 2016, students taking the algebra test will need to answer 31 of 54 correctly to pass, and English I students will have to answer 33 of 56.
Some educators and politicians have criticized the low starting standard, but TEA officials have defended it, saying each new testing system has been phased in similarly.
"Students just can't jump a new 7-foot academic hurdle in one leap," TEA spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman said. "A coach is going to start you off by setting it at 5 feet and then raise it 6 inches and let you get over that level. Then he'll raise it again and let you get over that level. That's what we're doing."
Some educators said they were surprised by the English scores, especially in writing. The essays required were an expository piece explaining material to the reader and an analytical piece about a piece of literature provided.
"The initial data is telling us that students really struggled with the writing portion," said Jerry Moore, a director in secondary school leadership for the Fort Worth school district. "We really need to go back and look at where exactly those difficulties were on the test and revamp our efforts."
Most area school districts were closed Friday, so individual results were not available.
The Birdville school district, however, released its results earlier in the week, showing that 91 percent of its students passed biology, and 85 percent in geography. In English, 75 percent passed in reading, 60 percent in writing.
Students who failed an end-of-course test may retake the exam in July and school districts must offer summer classes for them.
But educators are worried about time that students have before the retest.
"It's a challenge," said Mark Thomas, a spokesman for Birdville, where summer school begins Monday. "We're required to offer it. They're not required to attend. We won't know until we see who shows up."
Fort Worth district officials did not release results Friday, but they said they expect about 3,000 students to need remediation for one or more test.
Fort Worth officials said the surprise results in math and English had them scrambling to revamp summer offerings.
The district originally planned to have six or seven math teachers at each high school to work on algebra remediation and about three English teachers. Those numbers have now been swapped.
"We're still working through that to identify and secure those English teachers for the summer program," Moore said. "Next year's planning will definitely be better for all with some data and experience under our belts. This year was kind of a shot in the dark."
Students in grades three through eight also took STAAR tests, but those results are not available. However, some seventh- and eighth-graders who took high school level courses this year also took the end-of-course exams, and their scores are part of the overall statewide results.
This year's sophomores and juniors did not take STAAR tests. They are still taking the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests and those students must pass the 11th-grade exit-level TAKS test before graduating.
Staff writer Jessamy Brown contributed to this report.