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.