Fewer students fail exit-level TAKS in Fort Worth district

The Fort Worth school district reported a significant decline in the number of seniors failing the exit-level state tests, according to data released Wednesday.

The district has 231 seniors, or 6.2 percent, who still need to pass at least one portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, down from 410 at this time last year.

The state requires seniors to pass exit-level tests in math, English language arts, social studies and science to earn a high school diploma. The tests are initially given in the 11th grade, and students have five chances to pass.

Districts vary on whether students can participate in graduation ceremonies if they fail the TAKS.

Fort Worth, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw, Keller and Mansfield do not allow such students to walk on commencement day. Arlington, Carroll and Grapevine-Colleyville do.

Birdville lets the students walk only if they participated in all tutorials offered and took the test each time it was offered. That district had 7.2 percent of its seniors, or 103, not pass the TAKS. Hurst-Euless-Bedford, which had 14 seniors fail a portion of the test, has a similar policy.

Math is typically the biggest stumbling block. In Mansfield, for example, more than half of the 90 students who still need to pass the TAKS failed the math portion.

"Like many other districts in the state, math and science are traditionally the most challenging subjects," Mansfield district spokesman Richie Escovedo said. He said the district's math coordinator and teachers are constantly working to see what methods help students and identify where they struggle the most.

In the Keller district, 39 of 1,711 seniors still needed to pass a test. Eagle Mountain-Saginaw had 10 out of 824 seniors. The Grapevine-Colleyville district had fewer than five students fail.

In the Fort Worth district, the most significant improvement came at Eastern Hills High School. Last year, nearly 20 percent of seniors didn't pass the TAKS. This year, 19 seniors, or 8 percent of the class, still need to pass.

Eastern Hills has been rated academically unacceptable by the state for three years in a row, partly because of low TAKS passing rates.

Eastern Hills teachers "have a clear focus on making sure they have the appropriate intervention for the kids that are behind," said Michael Sorum, the district's chief academic officer. "Districtwide, we have made great movement in the right direction. We had 617 students at this time four years ago, and each year it goes down."

Sorum credited the improvement in part to a rigorous district curriculum implemented two years ago. Some schools, including Eastern Hills, also benefited from the PEAK program, which was aimed at getting the best teachers into struggling schools.

O.D. Wyatt was the district's only traditional high school to see a slight increase -- from 20 to 24 students still needing to pass the TAKS.

The Arlington district had 210 such seniors, 82 of them at Sam Houston High School. That's 5.9 percent of the district's seniors.

"The district is aware that the numbers are higher at Sam Houston than at our other schools, and we've been working to take steps so that, hopefully, next year that won't be the case," district spokeswoman Amy Casas said. The state is moving away from such exit-level testing. Beginning with the 2011-12 school year, students must pass state end-of-course tests.

EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700