Parents worry students struggling with STAAR test won’t graduate

Austin
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AUSTIN (KXAN) — At a hearing for the Texas Committee on Education Wednesday, parents and educational advocates called on Texas lawmakers to act to avoid the expiration of a lifeline that’s been used to help students who struggle to pass the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests. 

The hearing discussed Texas Senate Bill 213 authored by Texas State Senator Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo).

This bill was left pending in committee Tuesday. It would continue the use of “individual graduation committees” (IGCs) and other methods to satisfy high school graduation requirements. 

SB 463 passed in the 85th legislature currently gives students other pathways for high school graduation assessment. It allows Texas students who don’t pass the STAAR test to complete a remedial project overseen by an IGC. The bill, however, will expire in September unless the legislature extends it. 

The STAAR program was implemented in Texas in the spring of 2012 and included:

  • annual assessments for reading and math for grades 3-8 
  • writing at grades 4 and 7
  • science at grades 5 and 8 
  • social studies at grade 8
  • end-of-course (EOC) assessments for English 1, English 11, Algebra 1, biology and U.S. history. 

Parent Maria Burford testified before the committee that if the IGC’s are not continued, it will hurt students like her son. 

“Because so many kids are not passing the English I and II [EOCs], that’s a big disappointment when you’ve got a kid who’s got 32 credits and a 3.0 GPA. He plays the trumpet exceptionally well, and to torment him, to take [English1] a ninth time is wrong. And a seventh time on English II is wrong.”

Her son, Neal Burford is a senior in San Antonio ISD. She says he is ranked 68 out of 219 students in his class and has already received a scholarship to a 4-year college, Jarvis Christian College. However, he will not be able to graduate because he has only passed three of the five EOCs. 

Her family has written to the TEA asking for a pardon to allow graduation to her son and all the other students left in limbo by these tests. 

“This year, give these kids a break and say ‘no testing until we figure this out’ because we know it’s wrong,” she said. 

Neal Burford is a high school senior in San Antonio,  his family says despite a good academic record, his inability to pass 3 of the 5 STAAR tests required in Texas, he will not be able to graduate. (Photo Courtesy: Maria Burford).

A committee member told her on Tuesday, “we can’t change the law by May even if we wanted to, but I think we can encourage everyone to have their committees work faster.”

A parent of a junior at Westlake High School in Austin also testified in support of the bill

“This bill is very important for students like my son who is at risk of not graduating high school because of one test,” she said. “He is on track to graduate with a 3.6 GPA  and meets all course requirements to earn the foundation plan with a distinguished level of achievement.”

She explained that as her son is a junior, the IGC bill will not apply to him, and he is at risk of not graduating despite completing all other course requirements. She said her son has known that he had ADD and a reading comprehension disability. He has already passed the Biology and Algebra EOCs but has been unable to pass the two English EOCs despite trying three times. 

Out of frustration over his inability to pass these tests, he was evaluated again for disabilities and was found to have dyslexia. 

“He needs the IGC as a path to graduation, the two English EOCs are the only thing holding him back. If this bill sunsets, he will have no other avenue to achieve his goal of attending a Texas public university.”

Morgan Craven, the national director of policy for the Intercultural Development Research Association, testified on behalf of the Texas Latino Education Coalition Tuesday in favor of SB 213 as well. She testified that over 11,000 students were able to graduate in 2016-17 by using IGCs and explained that most of those students had been funneled into the IGC process because they had failed either English II or U.S. History end-of-course exams. She noted those two tests are not required by the federal government. 

Craven acknowledged that some have expressed concerns that IGCs would grant degrees to high school students who don’t deserve them.

“That is simply not true,” Craven said. “We have heard that from other witnesses who have testified.”

She explained that she has talked with a high school teacher in San Antonio about the IGC process, who told her it was very rigorous.

“When a student shows they have struggled on a test, the committee starts to build a portfolio of the student’s course work over time and identify areas where the student needs to demonstrate proficiency,” she said.  

Craven added that students then have to complete additional assignments to prove proficiency, the committee has to unanimously vote to approve the student to graduate. 

A staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, who also testified in support of the bill,  explained that prior to the legislation that allowed for IGCs in Texas, “students were provided no option of obtaining a high school diploma outside of passing standardized high-stakes testing.”

“For decades MALDEF has testified in the legislature and proven in court that high stakes testing policies have disparate negative impacts on Texas students, particularly on those that are low income and English language learners,” she said. 

Of the students who were assigned an IGC in the 2016-17 school year in Texas, 78 percent were recommended for graduation she said, citing TEA statistics. 

She worried that not passing this bill would deny graduation diplomas to thousands of students who would have otherwise satisfied graduation requirements. 

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