Last summer, a state commission of lawmakers, parents and educators recommended the Legislature make major changes to the state’s standardized tests that most public school students must take.
But with less than a month left in the legislative session — and with lawmakers focused on other education issues such as school choice and the school finance system while grappling with a tight budget — not much has been done to address the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.
On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee considered Senate Bill 2049 filed by Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, which would take a first step toward overhauling the STAAR by launching a pilot program to implement a series of computerized tests to be taken throughout the year. The bill also would allow school districts to replace the STAAR end-of-course exams that high school students must pass to graduate and instead use other testing instruments such as the SAT or ACT.
According to the Legislative Budget Board, the bill would cost $20 million over the next two years. Neither the House nor Senate versions of the state budget include any money for the bill.
“Knowing that high school students are prepared to be successful in a variety of post-secondary environments is essential and our student assessments obviously play a pivotal role in that,” Taylor said from the dais.
According to a Texas State Board of Education survey of 27,000 Texans conducted last year, most people said that they didn’t want a state standardized test for public school students, particularly if it penalizes teachers and students for poor performance.
Currently, fifth- and eighth-graders and high school students must pass the STAAR to advance to the next grade or graduate.
Since the STAAR was first administered in 2012, critics have long considered the test too difficult for students, prompting the state throughout the years to scale back requirements or postpone implementation of certain grading parameters. Test scores have remained relatively stagnant year over year. Parents have complained that the test has caused anxiety, forced teachers to focus on the test at the expense of subject matter, and punished students by holding them back a grade.
Heeding the calls for change, the Legislature last session created the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, which over the summer released a report that included a recommendation that the STAAR should become a series of computerized tests that students can take throughout the year.
The commission also recommended using performance on national tests such as the SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests to measure how well high schools are preparing students for college and careers.
On Tuesday, several people testified in support of creating a pilot program for computerized testing.
“We do support the idea of a computer adaptive assessment pilot, as the results can be used to drive instruction and personalized learning for students,” said Jonathan Maxwell with the Clear Creek school district in the Houston area.
However, many had concerns with using the ACT, SAT or the Texas Success Initiative test, which community colleges commonly require high school students to take to measure college readiness, instead of the STAAR end-of-course exams.
“The TSI assessment … was not designed for an end-of-course exam for high school accountability or as an indicator for high school graduation,” said Jill Schott with the College Board, which administers the SAT and Texas Success Initiative test. “If it had been, the content, the item pool, the psychometric characteristics of the test would differ from their current design.”
School districts would have to shoulder the cost of administering the exams, which could range from $3.2 million to $24 million statewide each year.
The bill also would no longer require students to take the English II test, which has one of the highest failing rates among all STAAR end-of-course exams.