June 18, 2012

North Texas students back in school, getting ready for STAAR retests

Texas school districts are conducting intensive summer school programs this month to help students who did not pass the new end-of-course standardized tests.

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Texas school districts are conducting intensive summer school programs this month to help students who did not pass the new end-of-course standardized tests.

Students have a chance to take the tests again July 9-13, and educators want them to take the remedial courses while the material is still fresh in their minds.

That's why Alondra Silva, 15, signed up for the summer tutorial program at Haltom High School. She needs to retake the writing test and plans to do so before her sophomore year, when she'll have to take another series of end-of-course exams.

"It was pretty hard," Silva said. "There was some vocabulary that I did not understand. I just want to get it over with because I think the older you get, the more you might forget the ninth grade because you're focused on other stuff. "

The new end-of-course exams are part of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.

The freshmen of 2011-12 are the first students who must pass the exams each school year before they can graduate.

Under state law, school districts must offer remedial courses to students who failed the exams, but students are not required to take the extra instruction.

Since the test results were released as the school year came to a close, school district officials were scrambling to set up summer programs, notify students and match the teaching staff with the subjects that students need help on.

For many students, those are reading and writing. 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 tests were lower than for reading and writing.

Scores from North Texas students mirrored results statewide, in which 68 percent passed the English I reading test and 55 percent the writing test, which required students to write a literary essay and an expository essay instead of a single narrative essay.

At Haltom High, officials expected to need five math teachers for the summer tutorial program but ended up needing only two, said Jennifer Klaerner, Haltom's summer school principal. Classes began June 11.

The campus program is drawing about 160 students, about 50 to 60 percent of those who need to retest. Teachers work with them in small groups to help improve their skills, and they will take some practice tests at the end of the course.

"The bulk of our students who needed [remediation] were on the writing tests," said Klaerner, also the school's curriculum and instruction coach. "It was kind of a last-minute switching on what teachers we needed. We had everybody on standby."

Officials with the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw school district, too, needed more English teachers to meet demand. The three-week accelerated-instruction summer program for both high schools is at Boswell High. About 160 students showed up for the first afternoon session and 90 are attending a second session.

About 60 to 75 percent of students who need to retake biology, world geography and algebra are enrolled in the summer program, but only about 45 percent of students who need to retake reading or writing are enrolled.

"I think it just had to do with the large number of students that didn't pass writing. Many of them had summer plans," said Darrell Brown, executive director for assessment and program evaluation. "The results came in so late, some had vacations, some had trips, some had jobs, and I think that affected our participation."

The Fort Worth district begins its summer programs today. Officials have said they expect as many as 3,000 students to need remediation for one or more tests. Students will take the classes at their own high school, beginning with a 7:30 a.m. session and a second morning session.

Fort Worth first 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 been swapped.

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326

Twitter: @jessamybrown

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