Friday, May 20, 2005

Area Seniors Stuck in No-Passing Zone

Having not mastered TAKS, hundreds won't see graduation day

12:32 PM CDT on Friday, May 20, 2005

By TAWNELL D. HOBBS / The Dallas Morning News

Kendra Rainey won't be wearing that graduation gown hanging in her closet. And the announcements mailed to friends and family are now a painful reminder.

Last week, Kendra was ushered into a counselor's office at Bryan Adams High School in Dallas to get the bad news: She failed to pass the TAKS in her final attempt and will not graduate with her class Sunday.

"It makes me feel like all I've done is a waste of time," said Kendra, 18, who didn't pass the math and science portions of the test. "I can't be there with my class."

But she is not without peers. Hundreds of area seniors – including up to 697 students in DISD, or about 10 percent of the senior class – will not receive their diplomas after failing to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

This is the first school year that seniors who did not pass all portions of the TAKS cannot graduate. They began taking the exit-level test in the 11th grade and had up to five chances to pass.

Those students are left to consider some options: They can continue to retake the TAKS until they pass or pursue a GED. Others may choose to do nothing – never receiving a diploma after finishing all of their coursework.

The news has hit students – and parents – hard.

Patricia Rainey said her daughter has cried more times than she can count. She now has to postpone attending Texas Southern University in Houston, where she was accepted.

"She's been crying every day, I feel so sorry for her. She has me crying," she said. "This is holding her back."

Dallas Independent School District spokesman Donald Claxton, who said the final number of affected students will be reported in about a week, agreed that it's not an easy situation.

"They are students who have gone through the school district for 12 years and aren't ready to graduate," Mr. Claxton said. "When that doesn't happen, we share their concern and pain."

He said DISD would work with students wanting to retake the test.

"All hope is not lost. We are going to continue to coach them," Mr. Claxton said.

Number varied

The number of affected seniors varied among area school districts. Fifty-eight students in Garland won't march, and 151 will sit out in Arlington. Seventeen students fell short in Plano, while every senior in the Highland Park and Carroll school districts passed the exit exam.

Of districts reporting results, Dallas had the largest percentage of seniors failing the TAKS.

The Texas Education Agency will soon release statewide numbers, but 11 percent, or 24,937, of Texas seniors still needed to pass a portion of the test in April – before the last retake.

At that time, 95 percent of students had passed math and English language arts, 94 percent had passed science, and 99 percent had passed social studies.

Students said the test – particularly math and science – was challenging.

Ashlee Williams, a student at Skyline High School, was visibly upset when she spoke about the math test.

"It was my fourth time taking it," she said. "What's the point?"

Detorrian Rhone, 18, said the pressure was too much for him. He said he was nervous the whole time taking the math and science exams.

"They were like, 'If you don't pass, you don't graduate,' " said the Bryan Adams student.

The graduation rule involving standardized tests is not new to Texas. Previously, seniors needed to pass the TAAS. But the TAKS, which debuted in 2003, is much more rigorous than its predecessor.

The new exam covers more subjects, including the addition of science. Students also began taking the exit-level TAAS in the 10th grade, which gave them more opportunities to pass. Only about two percent of last year's seniors did not pass TAAS.

TEA spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said state lawmakers wanted to make sure that a high school diploma meant something.

"We know that it is heartbreaking for students to get to mid-May and discover they aren't going to graduate," she said. "But ever since the class of 1987, students have had to pass a state test in order to graduate."

The next opportunity to retake the test is in July. School districts have the option of allowing students to participate in commencement. Or they can give them "certificates of coursework completion," which indicates all necessary credits to graduate were completed.

Dallas and Mesquite allow neither. But the Denton and Richardson school districts allow both.

DeEtta Culbertson, a TEA spokeswoman, said excluding seniors who failed a state exam is not an unusual practice.

"They believe that the kids who are participating are the ones that earned it," she said.

Difficult to handle

But for students and parents, the exclusion is difficult to handle.

"That's like taking their spirit," said Terry Tucker, whose daughter did not pass the science portion. "They've worked for four years for that moment."

Ms. Tucker said her daughter, Tamara Roberts, cried for two days and even vomited when she got the news that she couldn't graduate. She said her daughter now has to postpone attending El Centro College.

Tamara, 17, who tried to pass the science test five times, said it only seemed to get harder.

"I want to walk across that stage," said the Bryan Adams student. "I want them to call my name, too."

Michael Burney, also a Bryan Adams senior, tried to pass the science exam four times. He plans to take it again in July.

"Sometimes it makes me feel like all I've done – it's a waste of time," said Michael, who will delay plans to attend Lincoln Tech in Grand Prairie.

Meanwhile, families have been left to cancel graduation parties and absorb a financial hit. Kendra Rainey spent $250 on a graduation package that included her gown and announcements. She also bought senior pictures for $209 and a senior lunch for $13.

Several parents and students showed up at a Dallas school board meeting Wednesday night with a few homemade signs. One read: "12 years for what? To be kicked to the curb at the end!"

Patricia Rainey, Kendra's mother, said she predicts the dropout rate will increase as students give up on ever passing the test.

"They're always hollering about kids dropping out of school, but look what they're doing," she said.

This is the first school year that seniors must pass the TAKS to graduate. Here is a look at some area districts:
School district Number of seniors Number who failed TAKS % not graduating
Arlington 3,351 151 4.5% *
Cedar Hill 447 14 3%
Dallas 7,000 697 10% *
Denton 765 17 2.2%
DeSoto 460 8 1.7%
Duncanville 644 18 2.8%
Frisco 639 20 3.2%
Grapevine-Colleyville 950 4 0.4%
Garland 3,190 58 1.8%
Lancaster 301 19 6.3%
McKinney 762 9 1.2%
Mesquite 2005 37 1.8%
Plano 3,220 17 0.5%*
* Approximate number of seniors
SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research
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  1. Since the test is at the 9th grade level, the real question that should be ask is "How can teachers be passing student on to the 12th grade who cannot perform at the 9th grade level?

    Maybe schools, parents, and students should stop living in Wonderland where authority figures hand out pieces of paper that means you are intelligent.

  2. a big issue behind this is that even after being "coached" to pass these exams, the students remain thoroughly unprepared for even community college coursework. the narrow curriculum of multiple choice questions, especially on the social studies joke-test, are memorized at the expense of critical thinking skills.
    whether the students pass the TAKS or not, they lose.

    kip austin hinton
    san anto, texas