AUSTIN (KXAN) — The test Texas uses to measure student learning outcomes is giving students more advanced reading passages than they are ready for, a new study finds.
These findings are especially timely given that students across the state will launch into their first big chunk of STAAR testing this week and legislators are trying to put forward bills which would reform the test.
The study by professors at Texas A&M-Commerce, looked at results of the 2018 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test and found that while there have been improvements in recent years, the reading passages were still “misaligned” for the students taking the test.
While looking at the average readability of each individual reading passage and the total average readability of the passages, researchers found that the reading level is “too high in most cases.”
“Thus, it is believed that many students may be failing the STAAR test because the passages are written above their grade level,” the researchers said.
This group previously studied STAAR testing in 2012 and found that reading passages were typically one to three years more advanced than the grade level the test was written for.
A 2015 state law required the Texas Education Agency to modify some of the reading passages on the test, reducing the number of passages and gradually increasing the number of questions that had to be answered by grade. The 2018 study was meant to test whether these changes had made passages more readable for students.
“I have been hearing from parents, grandparents, teachers, school board members, and researchers, and we’ve had meetings over the years, and the evidence is there, that these STAAR tests — these high stakes tests — are way out of line with what the children are being taught,” said Texas Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio).
In an editorial for Texas Monthly, Menéndez revealed that he asked Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath to give him feedback on research that shows STAAR testing is not grade-level appropriate.
The state senator has also filed three of his own bills to reform this state testing.
— One of the bills he has filed, SB 2400, would pause all STAAR testing until it’s been evaluated by an independent group. Menéndez has referred the bill to the Senate Education Committee with a request for a public hearing.
— Another, SB 2401, calls for an independent audit of the STAAR but states that STAAR test results from this year can only be used if they help schools and students, so any negative results could not be used for accountability purposes.
— Yet another bill, SB 96, would cut down the number of standardized tests to the number that is federally required.
Other lawmakers are eying STAAR testing reforms including SB 213 which would extend alternative options for high school students who take, but cannot pass, the STAAR tests.
There are several other bills currently filed in the Texas Senate and House.
“Unfortunately, there are people on the other side that feel that the test is not broken and they are pushing back,” Menéndez said. “And so it may be difficult, but we’re going to continue to push.”
Menéndez worries that if Texas waits until the next legislative session to address the shortcomings in the STAAR, more students and teachers will be put at a disadvantage.
“It negatively affects everyone. The scores are being used to either promote or hold back kids and also to close schools, and they’re also measuring, teachers effectiveness — it’s not fair,” Menéndez said.
The lawmaker hopes that parents and members of the public who are concerned about STAAR testing make their voices heard by their lawmakers and at the state Capitol.
KXAN reached out to AISD to ask about how they prepare their students for STAAR reading testing. School district officials said STAAR scores are one of the many things they use to help make decisions about the curriculum for students who may be struggling with reading.
“We have a range of reading intervention programs for students who need extra help, and we use multiple assessments to match the program to the individual student’s needs,” said Dr. Lisa Goodnow, Associate Superintendent of Academics and Social and Emotional Learning, Austin ISD. “For the past three years, the district has significantly increased the number of Certified Academic Language Therapists at our elementary campuses to serve students with dyslexia and striving readers.”
KXAN’s Arezow Doost and Frank Martinez contributed to this story.