Tag: failure

The GPC Process – TEA Flowcharts

For parents of 5th and 8th graders who have opted out or failed STAAR, these flow charts show the process for determination of Accelerated Instruction and Promotion/Retention.

General Education Students (p. 8 of SSI Manual)

gpc process - gened

Special Education

For special education students, the ARD committee acts as the GPC. (p. 27 of SSI manual)

gpc for sped

TEA Commissioner Admits Teachers Unable to Align Instruction with STAAR

On August 21, 2014, TEA Commissioner Michael Williams announced that Texas would once again delay implementing increased performance standards for its STAAR examinations which are used to assess academic readiness, are required for automatic promotion to 6th or 9th grade, and which must be passed by high school students in five different areas in order for any public school in Texas to grant that student a diploma.

In 2011, the TEA awarded a foreign company, Pearson Education, a half billion dollar contract to develop the STAAR exam as a replacement for a well-established assessment system.  The TEA set a schedule of implementation that included regular increases in performance standards until an ultimate performance goal was attained.  However, despite not knowing how the test would align with the essential skills taught in Texas schools, the TEA determined that high school students would still be penalized with non-graduation if they failed to pass this new and unproven exam.  In fact, the TEA failed to require Pearson Education to obtain independent validation of the test instrument.  Instead, in a shocking example of conflict of interest, Pearson was allowed to self-certify the validity of its $500 million project.

But all has not been well.  The TEA’s own research demonstrated that Pearson’s accommodations for LEP students (a growing portion of Texas public school students) were completely ineffective.  Initial increases to performance standards were delayed due to stagnant test results.  Finally, the TEA commissioner announced yet another delay in increased standards – a clear indicator that the assessment system is not working.  But what is most shocking is the admitted reason for the delay.  In a memo to administrators, Commissioner Williams stated that the reason was to “provide additional time for educators to adjust instruction to align with the more rigorous TEKS measured by the STAAR program.”  In the public news release, the reason stated was to “give[] educators additional time to make the significant adjustments in instruction necessary to raise the level of performance of all Texas students.”

Thus, four years into STAAR, the TEA commissioner admits that teachers have not yet found a way to align the teaching of TEKS (essential skills) with the STAAR test that pretends to measure those skills.  In fact, he tells the public that this requires “significant adjustments.”  This should not surprise anyone, since the TEA threatens to pursue criminal charges against teachers who even ask a student what they found difficult on the STAAR exam.  How can teachers figure out how to teach TEKS in a way that the test measures when they can’t talk about the test itself with the students who have to take it?

So Commissioner Williams is delaying the implementation of the new standards.  But what about the Class of 2015?  For four years, these students have struggled to pass an assessment that our own TEA commissioner now admits the teachers are unable to prepare them for.  This is why almost 20% — over 50,000 real Texas kids — are being threatened with non-graduation.  What is Commissioner Williams’ solution for them?  Another year of ineffective preparation occasioned by a secret test?  Permanent labeling as a high school dropout?

There is only one solution:  Commissioner Williams must suspend the TEA STAAR graduation requirements until this system is fixed.  Anything less is simply cavalier disregard for the well-being of our kids, for the future of the Texas economy, and for the public education system itself.

A petition to delay implementation of the STAAR Graduation Requirements can be found here.

English Language Learners: STAAR’s Most Vulnerable Victims

Last spring’s English I writing EOC examination laid bare the greatest threat to the future of this state that the STAAR test creates. Overall results were discouraging, but manageable. Of all test takers, 44% failed to achieve the minimum score. This is certainly a concern, but with many more administrations to come, the numbers are not too stunning. Still, having 44% of students off track for graduation at the very first EOC administration is concerning to be sure. But looking deeper into the data, we find a number that should raise concern among all parents and taxpayers. Among English Language Learners (ELL) currently rated as showing Limited English Proficiency (LEP), a full 87% of the students failed to achieve the minimum required score. That is almost 9 out of every 10 ELL students that took the test. The students comprised almost 10% of all test takers, and the numbers are growing.

Most LEP students in Texas are not immigrants or newly arrived students. They are children who grow up in a household where the primary language spoken is Spanish. As children they learn to speak in Spanish. They go to school and interact with their peers in English, but in most circumstances return to a home where no adult can provide meaningful assistance in either Language Arts or course content. The overall passage rate of the writing exam was FOUR TIMES higher than the passage rate for ELL-LEP students.

One would think this disparity, and the idea that almost 90% of our LEP students are off track for graduation, would inspire heated analysis and targeted problem solving at the TEA. If this is true, it is the best kept secret out there. A Public Information Act request was submitted to the TEA for all documents discussing the passing rate disparity or analyzing or proposing solutions to address the problem. The TEA responded that no such documents exist.

Imagine that! An assessment intended to be used to help identify the academic readiness of students shows that 90% of a  discrete and identifiable subgroup is failing a mandatory portion of the curriculum and the TEA claims that not so much as a single e-mail exists in all of the agency discussing this issue! That goes beyond benign neglect and suggests an almost wilfull disregard of the rights of the students. If we have created a system that dooms ELL students to failure, the case law is very clear that their rights have been violated.

However, this should not be surprising to anyone who has examined how the TEA has addressed the issue of ELL students and STAAR assessment. Under the old TAKS system, ELL students had a three year exemption from testing, during which time they were to be acquiring the language skills that would enable them to be validly assessed. STAAR eliminated those exemptions except in rare cases that permit a one time exemption of a very small group of students. The TEA’s own research indicates that attaining academic fluency takes between six and eight years. Yet STAAR proposes to demand satisfactory performance after as little as three months in a U.S. school.

To “assist” ELL students, there are certain testing accommodations available to them. Accommodations do not exist to make passing the test easier. They exist to make sure that we can be confident that a student’s scores reflect their true comprehension of the subject, not a lack of understanding of the language. Those accommodations were created by Pearson Education and field tested by them. Pearson’s research indicated that the accommodations have no statistically significant impact on ELL performance. In other words, they don’t work. When faced with research demonstrating the failure of the Pearson accomodations, did the TEA hire a new contractor? Did they send Pearson back to the workshop to come up with accommodations that actually work? No. What they did, in fact, was implement the very accommodations that Pearson told the TEA would not work. Can we be surprised to find wide disparities in STAAR achievement results for ELL students when we send them to test with ineffective accommodations?

What does this mean for Texas. We already have one of the highest dropout rates in conjunction with the lowest graduation rate in the nation. Our ELL population is growing and demographic trends suggest it will be many years before that component of our population peaks. In the meantime, these students will be moving up through high school being told from 9th grade on that they will not graduate. The consequences are easy to predict: more dropouts, more unemployment and higher public assistance and incarceration rates.

The Opt Out movement has put the spotlight on standardized testing as a whole. But who speaks for the ELL population? Their parents are often unable to effectively advocate for their children. Parents of native English speakers are not directly affected by the hurdles STAAR poses to the LEP population. But in the near future we will all be impacted by the effect. If the test of a man is how he treats the most vulnerable among him, let us all take this opportunity to remember that LEP students need our voice and our support as well.