By Michael V. Hannigan
A new standardized test is still a month away for Texas public schools, but high school students may have caught their biggest break last week.
Friday, Feb. 17, Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott gave school districts the option of delaying the so-called “15 percent rule” one year.
The rule requires the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) end-of-course tests to count as 15 percent of a student’s final grade.
A statement released by the Texas Education Agency said Scott made the move “after receiving input from parents, educators and State Board of Education members, as well as … clarification from state leaders.”
“I remain committed to rigorous public school accountability,” Scott said. “The new assessment system will be better for students and educators.”
The STAAR is replacing the TAKS. According to the Texas Education Agency: “The STAAR program at grades 3–8 will assess the same subjects and grades that are currently assessed on TAKS. At high school, however, grade-specific assessments will be replaced with 12 end-of-course assessments: Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, biology, chemistry, physics, English I, English II, English III, world geography, world history, and U.S. history.”
It is those end-of-course tests that are the problem this year.
“I have felt all along that the 15 percent rule was unfair to our ninth graders,” said MISD Superintendent Randy Perry. “They are the guinea pigs in this new system.”
As things were, Perry said, 15 percent of a freshman’s end-of-course grade would have been based on a test no educator has actually seen.
“(The student’s) GPA and class rank could be adversely affected for their entire high school career,” he said. “Some of these ninth graders may fail the new test and lose credit, even if they passed in the classroom for the year.”
Although unable to vote on the issue at the time, Malakoff ISD school board members agreed with Perry and the board is set to delay the 15 percent rule at its meeting next month.
State Rep. Lance Gooden and State Rep. Jim Pitts were among more than 100 lawmakers to sign a letter to Scott urging him to shelve the 15 percent rule for this year.
“I believe that parents and teachers in our local community know what is best for our children. Standardized tests fly in the face of my commitment to locally-controlled schools,” Gooden wrote in his weekly letter to constituents on Friday. “Top-down education policy from Austin and Washington has shown to be a hindrance, not a help, so I will do everything in my power to prevent further encroachment into the classroom. I will always oppose standardized testing because no two students are alike.”