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State Test Results Released in Texas, Florida: How Did Students Do?

In the last few days, two of the five largest states in the United States by student enrollment, Texas and Florida, released results from student assessments in their K-12 accountability systems. The testing system in Texas has been in the news quite a bit recently, as my colleague Erik Robelen has pointed out, with Gov. Rick Perry signing a bill that slashed the number of these exams (called the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, exams) that students must pass to graduate from 15 to five. But what about the actual results from this academic year?

Let's look at Texas first. The Texas Education Agency put out a handy comparison of the scores in 2012-13 and 2011-12 in various subject tests. You may remember that for 2011-12, the state limited the full rollout of the new STAAR exams to five, and this year, the state released results for 10 exams. This year, students did best on the biology exam, which 88 percent of students passed, and worst on the English II writing exam, which was fully implemented for the first time in 2012-13. Only 52.7 percent of students passed. (The English I passing rate, meanwhile, was only slightly higher at 54.3 percent.)

For the most part, test results were pretty flat—of the five exams fully implemented in both of the two years in question, performance rose the most on the English I reading test, increasing by 2.2 percent up to 70.1 percent. That high biology proficiency rate actually dipped slightly from 2011-12 to 2012-13, by .9 percent to be exact. Among the new tests, 86.2 percent of students were proficient in geometry, while 70.2 percent passed muster in world history. Remember, these kinds of results in general are what upset Texas lawmakers, and despite pressure from big business to keep what they called high standards for graduation, Perry ultimately agreed with his legislative counterparts.

"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 program's future, likely impacted performance this year," Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams said in a statement.

Now to Florida. As it turns out, there was a similar dynamic with the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test that Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett said was disappointing in a phone call with Sunshine State reporters: "The FCAT results are flat, and I find that personally unacceptable."

On FCAT 2.0 reading administered in grades 3-10, for example, the passing rate last year and this year are the same, 57 percent. High school sophomores showed a 4-percent improvement in proficiency on the test, but, otherwise, results were indeed pretty stagnant. And in the FCAT 2.0 in math in grades 3-8, overall proficiency dipped from 57 percent to 56 percent. There was better news for newer end-of-course assessments—on the Algebra I assessment, the percentage of passing students increased from 58 percent to 64 percent, and the jump on the end-of-course biology exam was even higher, from 59 to 67 percent.

And remember the FCAT 2.0 writing scores that caused such an hot blast of controversy last year? This year, there appears to be no such teeth-gnashing. While the state says that for this year's FCAT 2.0 in writing that there is no "passing" score, the percentage of students scoring 3.5 and higher is the key factor for how those tests factor into schools' grades.

Based on that calculation, the share of students meeting or exceeding that standard rose from 48 percent last year to 57 percent this year in the 4th grade, the biggest increase, and for students in the 8th and 10th grades, the increases were 2 percent in each grade level, up to 54 percent and 62 percent, respectively. But there's one other important difference to note: This year, students had 60 minutes to take the test, instead of the 45 minutes of testing time in 2012.

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