Test Score Reporting Season, 2014

According to the The Dallas Morning News ( June 6, 2012), Texas students still struggle on English tests with just 62% passing English I and 66% passing English II. The gap between white students passing the test and minorities is huge, with black and Hispanic students scoring about 30 percentage points lower. There were better results for passing rates in algebra (81%), biology (91%), and U.S. history (92%). White students’ scores were still higher, but not significantly.

What I find significant in the report is that standards for passing the tests have been lowered for the first three years of the newly implemented STARR curriculum.  Original legislation specified passing grades in ten subjects for a high school diploma, but dropped half of them last year when it appeared many students would fail to graduate. Now students must pass only five exams and can pass with lower scores.  On Algebra I and biology tests, students had to answer just 37% of the questions correctly to pass.  At the same time, the Education commissioner Michael Williams asserted that he was encouraged to see improvement in the core subjects because of “the higher rigor of the STARR.”

That seems highly unlikely.  Besides dropping requirements for half the subjects in the STARR curriculum, the standards for measuring success have been lowered to avoid embarrassing rates of failure.  As curricular rigor is touted, the bar for passing is lowered.  What is really happening here?  And what will happen next?

When data don’t reflect progress towards codified goals, more funds are usually allocated for another cycle of standards-setting, test-construction and new testing publications. That money–and it is a great deal of money at all levels of government involved in education–could be used in so many ways to improve educational opportunity for all.

We know that students in our schools have a wide variety of previous experience and special needs. We know they learn at different rates. Tests measure phantoms in an effort to make plain what is exceedingly complex.  And in the process resources are wasted and school time squandered for the millions of children who now must focus on passing tests.