Fort Worth

STAAR tests keep few local students from getting diploma

Leslie Peña, 18, is in the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences Class of 2015 and also has passed all the end-of-course STAAR tests required to graduate. TABS teacher Aurora Guevara provides guidance during a practice procedure.
Leslie Peña, 18, is in the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences Class of 2015 and also has passed all the end-of-course STAAR tests required to graduate. TABS teacher Aurora Guevara provides guidance during a practice procedure. Star-Telegram

Leslie Peña is in the first graduating class of the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences, but she also holds another distinction.

She is among the state’s first seniors who had to pass the STAAR test to graduate.

“I am definitely glad it’s over,’’ Peña, 18, said of the battery of required exams in the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness. She took end-of-course assessments for English I, English II, Algebra I, biology and U.S history.

Dozens of Tarrant County seniors who have not passed all sections of the STAAR will not be allowed to take part in commencement. They are among the 8 percent of seniors in the state who had not passed all sections of the exam by early this year, according to a Friday release by the Texas Education Agency.

Much smaller percentages of Tarrant County seniors have been affected by the state’s accountability rules, according to districts that released the data.

In Arlington and Fort Worth, fewer than 6 percent of seniors will not be allowed to walk across the stage to get diplomas. Birdville and Hurst-Euless-Bedford school districts have fewer than 2 percent who won’t be allowed to participate. In Keller, two seniors are ineligible.

In the Carroll district in Southlake, all the seniors passed. Even if they hadn’t, district policy allows them to participate in commencement, a Carroll official said.

Students can continue to take tests and get their diplomas by the end of the summer. Fort Worth provides summer preparation courses, said Michael Sorum, deputy superintendent of leadership learning and student support services for the Fort Worth district.

In some cases, the students who haven’t passed STAAR are also struggling to pass normal graduation course requirements, he said.

But, Sorum said, “These students who arrive at this point have a lot of perseverance. They’ve taken this test a lot of times. They’re motivated to pass.”

Alternative to STAAR

Like this year’s graduates, members of the Class of 2016, will also have to pass STAAR to graduate. But they will have a new option.

Introduced this legislative session, House Bill 149 allows students to get STAAR credit without having to pass all the exams. It permits students who have not passed some of the exams to get credit by completing a project, Sorum said.

In Fort Worth, the district has designed a project students can complete in order to secure a graduation date.

Senate Bill 149 “came so late” that it was difficult for students to complete a portfolio, Sorum said.

“A portfolio is generally work collected over time, but we designed a project in which the students could demonstrate mastery of the standards,’’ he said.

Fort Worth students who have passed all the exams say the best advice to those who have not passed is: Do intensive review before the exam.

Once he did that, “it was fairly easy,’’ said Randy Mier, 18, a culinary arts student at Trimble Tech High School.

Hanh Nguyen, who is executive officer, No. 2 in command, in the JROTC program at Paschal High School, said she understands why some students are struggling. She said STAAR is radically different from the standardized tests she was required to take in elementary school.

The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, the state’s precursor to STAAR, was a “basics” exam, Nguyen said. But the STAAR is on course work, she said. For example, the exam challenges a student’s understanding of biology, algebra and history.

“The STAAR was about did you pay attention in class, did you really understand the topic,’’ said Nguyen, who expects to study nursing at the University of Texas at Arlington in the fall. “It was based on our classes and your learning throughout the year.”

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705

Twitter: @yberard

Ineligible seniors

Area school districts reported these numbers of seniors ineligible for graduation because they did not pass end-of-course STAAR rests.

Arlington: 223 of 3,869.

Birdville: 18 of 1,574.

Hurst-Euless-Bedford: 15 of 1,363.

Fort Worth: 185 of 4,203.

Keller: two of 2,450.

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