The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness begin Tuesday for fifth- and eighth-graders, and “parents and students should assume that the promotion requirements will be in place,” said Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe, who added that a decision might come early this week.
Under state law, schools are not allowed to promote students automatically to the next grade if they fail the tests. But for that ban to be in effect, Education Commissioner Michael Williams must certify that there is enough money in an accelerated instruction program called the Student Success Initiative. That program pays for tutoring and other remediation for students struggling to pass the state exams.
Two years ago, legislators cut the program by $237 million, leaving just $41 million in the two-year budget, as part of the overall $5.4 billion reduction to public schools. The agency did not ask budget-writers to restore that money for the upcoming 2014-15 budget. Williams has also told legislators that the agency can provide the needed remediation services without it.
“The reality is that we can’t hold students accountable if we don’t provide the resources,” state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said last month after the Senate Finance Committee provided only $50 million for the program for the next two years.
Ninth- and 10th-graders take the end-of-course writing exams beginning Monday amid their own uncertainty over the tests’ future. They are currently required to take 15 high-stakes exams over the course of their high school careers — three years of math, science, social studies, reading and writing — but that could soon change.
The Texas House voted last week to reduce the requirements to five tests, a change that would apply retroactively to today’s ninth- and 10-graders if it becomes law. The Senate has not taken up the legislation, but it is also moving towards reducing the number of exams required for graduation. The STAAR tests did not count for elementary and middle school students last year. Statewide, 80 percent of the eighth-graders passed the reading test and 76 percent met the standard in math. In both subjects, 77 percent of the fifth-graders passed.
For school districts, the commissioner’s delay has not changed their approach to the upcoming tests.
“All the state tests are considered ‘high stakes,’” said Bill Caritj, chief performance officer at the Austin school district, because the schools and districts are graded on the students’ performance.
If the students fail the high-stakes exams in April, there will be two other retests given before the next school year. They may also be promoted to the next grade with the approval of a campus committee.