As Gov. Rick Perry yesterday signed legislation to reduce the number of state tests required for graduation from high school, the Texas Education Agency was reporting that statewide passing rates on the state’s battery of achievement tests were “largely stable.” Put another way, the results of the latest State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) showed little if any improvement. Thanks to Gov. Perry’s signing of HB 5, the testing-reduction bill, these results drew less attention than they otherwise might have.
The press release from Commissioner of Education Michael Williams announcing the passing rates made no mention of the sharp cuts in education funding that may have contributed to the disappointing results. Williams did acknowledge that “we are asking more of our students and educators under the STAAR program,” but not that schools were being asked to do more with less—fewer teachers, educational aides, and other key personnel, as well as drastically reduced funding for extra educational services to help students struggling to pass state exams. Williams ascribed the lack of any broad improvement in passing rates to other factors: “While we would have hoped to see an across-the-board increase in performance, the difficulty of the tests, coupled with the uncertainty of the testing programs’ future, likely impacted performance this year.”On two of the most closely watched exams, passing rates actually declined rather than showing any improvement. On the Algebra I exam, the percentage of students passing dropped from 82.7 percent in 2012 to 82.1 percent in 2013. On the English I writing exam, the passing percentage fell to 54.3 percent from 54.5 percent the year before. That translates into a large number of students failing the writing exam this school year: 154,711, to be exact, and nearly 2,500 more than in 2012.