Many students struggle to pass STAAR even on 2nd attempt

Texas high school students have struggled on the state’s new standardized tests, and those who failed on their first try haven’t fared much better on their second, third and even fourth attempts.

Starting July 8, thousands of students will retake the five State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness exams they must pass to graduate.

Students now entering their sophomore year are the first class that will take all five STAAR tests required for graduation: Algebra I, biology, English I and II, and U.S. history. Most of them have already taken all but the U.S. history and English II tests. Those who haven’t passed can retake the tests as many times as needed.

This spring, more than 152,000 students failed the English I writing test alone — an exam designed for high school freshmen that is proving to be the most difficult STAAR test. But data from the last round of retakes, held this spring, show that less than 14 percent of those students passed, and some of those students were taking it for the fourth time.

By comparison, more than 40 percent of the retesting students passed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, STAAR’s predecessor, said Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe.

“Students are not having that much luck,” Ratcliffe said. “That’s why they ought to take any chance they can. Don’t sit out the summer test, that only hurts themselves.”

This year, about 10,000 Central Texas high school students are eligible for retakes — a number likely to grow over the next few years as juniors and seniors begin to take the STAAR end-of-course exams that will eventually be administered to all high school students.

When students fail, school districts must offer them some remedial help. However, how much remediation students have available to them varies district to district — with some districts offering simple test preparation classes that can be completed in a day, and others offering several weeks of summer courses.

“The stakes are higher when the students know they didn’t pass it the first time,” said Tim Savoy, spokesman for the Hays district, which is spending $105,575 for a full-day summer school program for STAAR retesters, rather than shorter tutoring sessions. In addition, the district estimates it is spending $12,300 to administer the exams and for proctors.

Savoy said the remediation is critical and offers students more individualized attention. Most students take the end-of-course tests in the spring and get the results back in June, after school is out in some districts.

“It’s a challenge for the teachers and the students, because there are so few days between the time they find out their scores and the time they have to retake the exam,” Savoy said. “It’s hard work on both students and teachers, but it’s good to have the remediation. There’s clearly an area they need to relearn and we need to reteach. The good thing about the summer session is there are fewer students so the teachers can provide more in-depth attention.”

In Austin, the number of students who need to retake the test varies from subject to subject, from approximately 1,200 in biology to more than 3,700 in English I writing. District officials estimated it will cost $96,000 to prepare students for the tests and an additional $55,000 in administration costs for test proctors, transportation and supplies.

Gov. Rick Perry recently signed House Bill 5 into law, which reduced the number of STAAR end-of-course exams from 15 to five. Last year’s freshmen were the first group of students to take the more rigorous STAAR. But parents across the state pushed back against having their children take the 15 high-stakes exams needed to graduate.

While districts welcome the changes, administrators said the high rate of failure for the English writing exams — statewide 54 percent of students passed Writing I and 53 percent passed Writing II — means nearly half of the high school students in the state will need to prepare for and retake the exams.

“In the long run, there will be a small amount of savings” realized by cutting the number of tests from 15 to five, said Bill Caritj, chief performance officer for the Austin school district. “However, statewide, the biggest challenge seems to be in writing, and English I and English II are still graduation requirements.”

The new requirements absolved students who failed any of the eliminated exams, which include geometry, Algebra II, English III, chemistry, physics, world geography and world history.

While the new law combines the English reading and writing into one exam, those students who failed one of the writing exams must still retake them. The combined English and writing exams won’t be available until next year.

In the Round Rock school district, about 2,000 students have been identified for retesting, but, with district closures during the summer, officials couldn’t provide cost estimates for the test preparation and proctoring.

In Leander, about 1,330 students were projected to take 2,200 tests across all subject areas, costing the district about $13,000. A total of 11 review sessions were offered between June 17 and July 2 and were estimated to cost up to $12,000.

Bastrop’s district had students eligible for 1,400 STAAR retakes this summer, and the Del Valle district reported 1,852 retests. Individual students might have failed more than one of the tests.

Those who fail the tests again, or don’t retake them over the summer, will have another chance in December.

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