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Summer School Attendance Up With Introduction Of New Exams

By Matt Goodman & Steve Pickett, CBSDFW.com
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The amount of Texas students currently attending summer school has increased because of the growing number of ninth graders who have to retake state assessment exams.

In order to graduate, the students must now pass the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, tests. In 2009, the state Legislature passed a mandate signaling the end of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills  –– TAKS ­­ –– and the introduction of the STAAR tests.

This year’s freshmen were the first students to take the end-of-course exams.

Touted as a better barometer for analyzing what students are learning in the classroom, the STAAR tests are longer and more in-depth than the TAKS.

And to graduate, each student has to pass every end-of-course exam, or EOCs.

According to results of five end-of-course exams released last week, 55 percent of ninth graders passed the English writing portion of the test and 68 percent passed the reading. The state says 83 percent passed algebra 1 and 87 percent met the requirements of the biology tests. Eighty-one percent passed the geography portion.

In a news release last week, Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott said students “generally performed as expected or better” on the tests.

However, this is only a phasing-in period, of sorts. The full standards won’t be in place until 2016.  If they were effective today, the passing percentages would dip much lower: 41 percent would’ve passed biology, 39 percent would’ve met the algebra 1 standards, 40 percent would’ve met the geography standards, 46 percent would’ve passed reading and 34 percent would’ve passed writing.

Scott’s quote in the release acknowledges the learning curve inherent in the new tests.

“These results give us the opportunity to focus on subject areas that need improvement, and we will continue to work with school districts, teachers and parents to ensure we continue to improve education for Texas students,” Scott said in the release.

Many ninth graders are in special programs during their summer vacation that are meant to prepare them to pass the tests they failed two months ago. Johnathan Tellez, 14, is one of 250 freshmen enrolled in Dallas ISD’s specialized summer session at Sunset High School.

He passed his ninth grade English class this year, but stumbled during the STAAR end-of-course exam. Students can excel in the subject matter, but those test results determine their ultimate fate.

“It’s a lot of pressure, because if you don’t pass it, you don’t graduate, and if you don’t pass it freshman year, it’s another test added on sophomore year,” Tellez said.

School districts across the metro area expect many students will need to retake the tests.  The Irving ISD expects 700 students; Richardson 850; and Dallas anticipates hundreds more.

The state orders the districts to offer summer academies, or preparation projects, to help students focus on areas where they struggled. Students aren’t required to attend the sessions, but many are getting help now so they can put the tests behind them.

Another series of end-of-course exams comes with their sophomore year, too.

Educators say they’re aware that the tests are more difficult than their predecessors.

“It’s a new pressure and the students will tell you, there’s pressure out there,” said Richard Kastl, a Sunset High School teacher. “The education for the parents, the teachers and the students is still forthcoming.”

Those who failed will retake the tests in July, a little more than a month before their sophomore year of high school. And as The Texas Tribune reported last week, each school district must pay to hold the special summer sessions.

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