Spring of 2012, the state of Texas launched a new legislated state mandated testing system for students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, along with 15 end-of-course high school exams.  The new system, State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), was intended to replace the TAKS testing system. The tests were created to emphasize college readiness standards for all grade levels, all students - focusing on knowledge and skills considered most important for college and careers, rather than focusing on traditional grade-level standards. Upon final phase-in of the new STAAR/EOC System, approximately 45 of the 180 student school days will be dedicated to test administration. This does not include planning and preparation time for the actual administration of “the tests on steroids”!

Although all students will be impacted by the increased rigor and standards of these tests, parents should be very concerned regarding the impact of the 15 exams on high school graduation requirements. In the past, students were required to pass 4 exit level TAKS tests administered during the junior year in high school to fulfill graduation requirements. The STAAR program now requires all students entering 9th grade beginning in 2011-2012 to pass 15 End-of-Course exams if they are on the recommended or distinguished graduation plan:

     ■ English/Reading I, English/Reading II, English/Reading III

     ■ English/Writing I, English/Writing II, English/Writing III

     ■ Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II

     ■ Biology, Chemistry, Physics

     ■ World Geography, World History and US History.

State law requires all students be placed on the recommended or distinguished plan until they are 16 years of age. At that time the parent may sign permission to lower the graduation plan to the minimum; however, the minimum plan requires a student to pass a minimum of 10 of the above tests and if enrolled in any of the other classes will have to comply with the testing standards, even if the student is on the minimum plan.

There are three passing standard levels. All students must achieve a Level I performance standard for passing the test; however, there is a different Level I performance standard to meet the cumulative requirement (explanation below). Students must achieve a Level II satisfactory performance on Algebra II and English III (reading and writing) assessments in order to receive a diploma under the recommended plan. Students must meet the Level III satisfactory performance standard on the Algebra II and English III (reading and writing) assessments in order to receive a distinguished diploma. Students who do not meet the Level I requirement for passing the exam will be required to retake the assessment.

Now it gets a little more complicated! In order to graduate, a student must also achieve a cumulative score that is at least equal to the product of the number of End-of-Course assessments taken in each content area. A student must achieve a minimum Level I score on an End-of-Course assessment for the score to count toward a cumulative score. Students on the recommended or distinguished graduation plans must score at the Level II (recommended plan) or Level III (distinguished plan) on the Algebra II and English III (reading and writing) for the score to count in the cumulative score.

The law also mandates the score a student receives on a STAAR End-of- Course exam count for 15 percent of the student’s final grade in the course. Since grading policies are determined locally, the Texas Education Agency lacks the statutory authority to determine how to calculate the 15 percent grading requirement. Schools will have the flexibility to establish the scale for correlating the scale score of the test to the course grade. The law allows students unlimited numbers of administrations; however, the district may limit which administration will count as 15 percent of the course grade. End of Course exams will not affect grade point averages if GPA is calculated using semester grades only.

Districts are required to provide remediation opportunities for students not passing End-of-Course exams. This qualifies as another unfunded mandate due to districts having to schedule sessions not only during school, but before and after school, as well as summer sessions.

Students enrolled in dual credit or advanced placement classes that substitute for one of the End-of-Course subjects will be required to pass the end-of course exams for that course. The exam will count 15 percent of the grade on the high school transcript; however, the End-of-Course exam will not be reflected on the college transcript. If the End-of-Course exam results in the student receiving a failing grade in the course, the student will have to retake the course the following year, as well as retake the test.

On a final note, students that do not graduate on a recommended or distinguished plan are ineligible to attend a 4 year university following graduation from high school! Students will have the option of attending a community college in order to gain eligibility for future consideration.

If you require further explanations, clarifications and/or justifications regarding the present testing mandates, contact your legislator! During the conversation, please consider requesting support for a bill that will reduce the state testing requirements to 5 End of Course exams with no cumulative score required and eliminating the requirement these exams count 15 percent of the course grade. Assessments should also be reduced in grades 3-8 by random sampling or limiting administration of the tests to grades 3, 5 and 8. Students not passing the tests in those grade-level exams would be assessed the following year to monitor improvement.

Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, or TAMSA, is a statewide grassroots organization of concerned parents that supports a more reasoned approach to student testing. They are dedicated to working during the 2013 Texas Legislative session to bring positive change for the sake of Texas children’s education. The website is http://tamasatx.com. I encourage you to join this organization at no cost, showing your support for a much needed revision in the state assessment law.

Mary Ann Whiteker is the superintendent of Hudson ISD. Her email address is mwhiteker@hudsonisd.org.