Wednesday, October 22, 2008

TAKS test passage rules may change

TAKS test passage rules may change
11:10 PM CDT on Tuesday, October 21, 2008
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Texas students in certain grades would no longer have to pass the state achievement test to be promoted under a new school accountability plan unveiled Tuesday by leaders of the House and Senate education committees.

The proposal would scuttle a requirement originally championed by former Gov. George W. Bush as a way to curtail the widespread practice of social promotion – automatically passing students regardless of achievement.

In addition, the new accountability plan would base annual school performance ratings on three years of test scores rather than the most recent year, allowing school districts and campuses to make up for a bad year of results with a couple of positive years.

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Those changes, presented to a special House-Senate committee on school accountability, are expected to be welcomed by school superintendents and teachers across the state, who have repeatedly complained about requiring students in three grades – 3, 5 and 8 – to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

The requirement, part of the Texas Student Success Initiative, was first pitched by Mr. Bush in his 1998 gubernatorial re-election campaign and subsequently passed by the Legislature in 1999.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said school districts would be able to decide their own criteria for promotion of students, using test scores, grades and whatever else is considered appropriate. She said students who fail in the three grades would receive additional instruction.

"These decisions need to be made locally and not dictated by the state," Ms. Shapiro said, insisting the move would not undermine promotion standards. "We're not saying [these students] won't be held back. We're just saying the decision won't be based on one test."

But another member of the committee, former Bush education adviser and current education lobbyist Sandy Kress, called the proposal a "step back" in a state that still has a serious problem with social promotion.

Mr. Kress said leaving it to local school districts to decide when a student should be promoted could result in many students being pushed through the system without the skills they need.

"I think we know many students are readily promoted to the next grade when they are not ready academically," he said.

Len Phipps, a teacher at Cowart Elementary School in southwest Dallas, said most teachers don't like the idea of a single test determining whether a student moves up to the next grade.

"The test by itself is not enough to make the decision on whether a child should be promoted," Ms. Phipps said. "Other factors, like teacher input, need to be considered. There can also be extenuating circumstances for some children."

Studies indicate that the test requirement slightly raised the number of students retained in grades 3 and 5, but many students who failed the TAKS still were promoted under an exception that allows the student to move up with agreement of the teacher, principal and parent.

House Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said another big change that school districts will welcome is proposed ratings of school districts and campuses based on three-year "rolling" averages of student achievement. Test scores will be averaged over the current school year and two prior years.

"This proposes a three-year rolling average of achievement so that one snapshot will not kill accreditation" for a campus, he said, noting that schools will be evaluated based on achievement growth rather than passing percentages.

In addition, the plan envisions a new state achievement test to replace the TAKS test for elementary and middle school students. "It will measure a broader range of achievement, not just basic skills," Mr. Eissler noted.

Lawmakers have already decided to phase out the high school TAKS, replacing it with a series of 12 end-of-course tests in four subject areas. The new tests will be used beginning with incoming ninth graders in the fall of 2011.

Students will have to get an average passing score of 70 in each subject area to earn a diploma. That requirement is not changed under the plan laid out on Tuesday.


A proposed accountability plan would set new criteria for accreditation of Texas school districts and campuses. Among them:

•Performance ratings would be based on three-year rolling averages of student test scores.

•Districts would be evaluated based on growth in achievement, especially growth on target to meet standards in three years.

•New standards would apply to subgroups of students based on ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

•Standards would gradually increase, aimed at putting Texas among the top 10 states in college readiness.

SOURCE: Select Committee on Public School Accountability

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