Top Ten Problems With the STAAR Test

The state law that created the STAAR also created very real problems for Texas students and schools. The top ten include:

1. STAAR more than triples exit-level test load for high school students. TAKS required only 4 exit-level tests for high school graduation. Under STAAR, a student must pass 15 exit-level tests, more than tripling the high-stakes testing load for Texas students.

2. Failure on a single STAAR test can keep a student from graduating. Students must pass all EOC assessments to graduate from high school, which can mean up to 15 standardized assessments – each English EOC has both a reading and writing assessment –  in addition to regular course work, final exams and other classroom requirements. Because STAAR EOC assessments must count for 15% of a student’s grade, failure to do well on a single standardized test may prevent a student from graduating.

3. STAAR scores may hurt chance for college admission. Many outstanding students may nevertheless do poorly on a single standardized test. Because STAAR results are required to count for 15% of a student’s grade, this single score may disproportionately impact a student’s Grade Point Average and class rank – both critical factors in college admissions. Colleges and universities admissions offices virtually never request a student’s standardized state test scores because they know such tests are not designed to predict academic success, but they do look at class rank and GPAs. For students applying to highly competitive schools, including UT-Austin, a single percentage point in class rank can make or break the chance for acceptance. The inclusion of EOC scores in final course grades puts students at a disadvantage for college admissions against students from other states or against those from districts that do not convert EOC scores in the same way.

4. Lack of consistent statewide plan for converting STAAR scores to student grades may result in uneven application of scores. State law mandates that STAAR EOC scores account for 15 percent of a student’s final course grade, but does not provide a consistent policy for converting STAAR scores to grades. Therefore a passing STAAR score may be interpreted as a C in one district or an A in another. Because the scores ultimately affect a student’s GPA and class rank, an uneven application of scores ultimately results in an uneven playing field for students.

5. High-stakes grading depends on unknown factors. Under the new tests, students must attain a certain cumulative score on all EOC assessments to graduate, but the state has not yet revealed what this required score will be. Students must also achieve a certain level of performance on EOC assessments for Algebra II and English III for admission into four year colleges, but again, the state has not yet determined this number.

6. Tests are written in language beyond grade level. Educators have determined that EOC assessments are written in language three Lexile levels higher than TAKS tests for the same grade level (a Lexile measure is the numeric representation of an individual’s reading ability or a text’s readability). This means students may know the subject matter, but may not understand what is being asked because test questions are phrased in language beyond their grade level.

7. Timed tests add pressure. Unlike TAKS tests, STAAR EOC assessments are timed tests with a strict 4-hour limit, increasing stress levels for students.

8. State has not provided new curriculum materials to support STAAR tests. For at least two of the EOC tests required this year (World Geography and Biology), the State Board of Education has adopted new curriculum standards, but the state has not provided new textbooks incorporating these standards to teachers and students for class and test preparation.   In some instances, the new materials are available only online, and not all schools have access to computer-based learning.

9. STAAR removes local control from school districts. Never before in Texas has a standardized test score been included in students’ final grades, and for good reason. Under state law, the award of a final grade has always been under the control of the local school district. Districts recognize that classroom teachers are in the best position to assess a student’s knowledge and  academic progress. STAAR should not undermine this longstanding principle of state law.

10. Tests are punitive, not diagnostic, and will inflict most harm on disadvantaged students. Like the TAKS tests before them, STAAR tests will present the greatest challenge to students already hampered by less fortunate circumstances. Low-income students typically begin school far less preparation than their wealthier counterparts (“fed and read to” is the common shorthand). In addition, schools located in low-income areas often have the greatest turnover among teachers and administrators, a state of flux exacerbated by the state’s current policy of further destabilizing campuses with low standardized test scores. Any state test should be used as a measuring stick to target needed improvements, not as a weapon against kids doing their best against challenging odds.

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