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Texas Mimics New York in Pushing Back State Tests' Impact on Students

Amid the burgeoning discussion about whether students have to take too many tests, there's a related policy question for states. To what extent should state officials adjust timelines for when the new cut scores on tests impact students?

Take two of the five largest states in the U.S. by student enrollment, New York and Texas.

Last February, the New York State Board of Regents approved a plan that will phase in the impact on students of tests aligned to the common coreSimply put, the state's Class of 2022 will be the first that will have to reach a new, higher cut score on English/language arts and math tests that demonstrate true "college- and career-readiness" based on students' grasp of the common standards.

Right now, New York students can score a 65 out of 100 on both the E/LA and math exams and still graduate, but starting with the Class of 2022, they'll have to score at least a 75 on the E/LA test and 80 on a math test to earn a diploma.

Texas Three-Step

So how does this relate to the Lone Star State? Late last month, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams approved a plan to phase in the new, higher cut scores on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams. STAAR tests are given to grades 3-8 and then as end-of-course exams for high school students—the number of tests given to students in grades 3-8 hasn't changed since STAAR tests were first given in 2012.

Remember, Texas doesn't have the common core, but its state testing regimen has been subjected to a steady flow of criticism, and during their 2013 session state lawmakers agreed to slash the number of required STAAR assessments for high school students from 15 to five.

Before Williams' latest move, the new and toughest cut scores would have kicked in 2016. The plan approved by Williams last month will keep the 2013-14 cut scores for the 2014-15 school year. In addition, the newly adopted plan will phase in the new cut scores on all the STAAR tests over three stages. The cut score for proficiency will first increase on the tests given to students in the 2015-16 school year; it will increase again for 2018-19; and then be fully phased in for 2021-22. (Texas students can score at Levels 1, 2, and 3 on the tests, with Level 2 representing "satisfactory" performance.)

You can see how this works below; click for a larger version of the image from the Texas Education Agency: 


So just like in New York state, 2022 is the first year that the long-advertised, tougher standards for students will truly kick in for Texas students and determine whether they graduate. The first cohort of Texas students to go through all four years of high school while being measured on the highest cut score would be the Class of 2027—those students won't even be in the 3rd grade, the first year of STAAR testing, until 2018.

Growing Unease

It's important to highlight that there are still many jitters in Texas about what the phased-in cut scores will mean for students. The Dallas Morning News reported that if students this year had been judged by those cut scores the state education agency doesn't want to use until 2022, half of them would have flunked all the tests.

Texas legislators, meanwhile, having cut down on the testing load for high school students, are concerned about why STAAR scores have remained flat since 2012. Last year, state education officials postponed the first slated increase in the cut score on STAAR tests.

But Williams and other state education officials denied that the STAAR tests themselves are an issue when they were quizzed by lawmakers Sept. 2. According to the News, when the state's assessment director, Gloria Zyskowski, was asked by lawmakers why scores have stagnated, she responded: "That might more correctly be directed to school people. I can tell you what happens on the test. I can tell you that the test measures the curriculum standards."

Lauren Callahan, a spokesman for TEA, said that a new K-8 math curriculum introduced in 2014-15, and a new math curriculum slated to be given to high school students in 2015-16, were major reasons for Williams' decision to push back the new cut scores. But she added that in terms of students' rate of improvement on STAAR tests, "It's just not as happening quite as quickly as people assumed it would several years ago."

By the way, the Empire State may not be done with changing how tests determine students' ability to graduate. Geoff Decker of Chalkbeat NY reported Sept. 2 that Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch floated a proposal to allow students to replace one of the five subject-area tests they currently must pass to graduate with a test in a different subject of their choice. For example, a student interested in math could replace one of the two currently required history tests with another calculus test.

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