Dallas-area Schools Struggling More With Reading Than Math, According to STAAR Results

Dallas-area schools are seeing lower passing rates on spring STAAR tests this year, especially in reading. The trend echoes an overall statewide decline seen on the standardized tests reported last week by the Texas Education Agency.According to agency data, Dallas Independent School District students lost ground in reading, science and social studies scores on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. This was similar to statewide results.Algebra I saw a boost in passing rates, the percentage of kids who met at least the minimum standard. That test is also the only high school exam that saw improvements in rates statewide.A sampling of other area districts — including Plano, Richardson, Fort Worth and Garland schools — shows gains in math and dips in most other tests, again generally mirroring statewide results. Highland Park, with nearly all students passing the tests, still saw passing rates slip by a percentage point or two in some areas.District-by-district passing rates from the state won't be available for months. STAAR results are a large part of Texas’ accountability ratings that are expected to be released next month.But statewide numbers are in, and districts do have results from individual campuses. School officials are wading through the data, but they say comparing results from one year with those from the next year is difficult because of changes in the tests.Stephanie Elizalde, Dallas ISD’s chief of school leadership, says STAAR testing hasn’t been carried out in the same way two years in a row.“With STAAR, it’s always a moving target because the state keeps changing what they do,” she said.TEA officials have long been scaling back plans to raise passing standards for the STAAR tests after years of lackluster results. While this spring’s tests didn’t get harder than tests from last year, there were still some tweaks that could have affected results.The state eliminated two versions of the STAAR that traditionally had significantly lower passing rates. STAAR-A was a version of the test for students who need special accommodations because of learning disabilities. Some students taking STAAR-A, for example, were allowed to use text-to-speech tools.The state also did away with STAAR-L, an English version of the test that was given to non-native speakers who were still learning the language.But STAAR results for those students are now reported in the overall passing rates for each test, thereby impacting results.Plano schools Superintendent Brian Binggeli said that makes straight comparisons from last year to this year inaccurate.“When measuring the same groups of students” to the same groups year over year, “preliminary estimates show that PISD scores increased in several grade levels and different content areas,” said Binggeli.TEA spokeswoman Lauren Callahan said agency officials haven’t examined whether the elimination of such tests affected results. She noted that math passing rates showed gains across the state and reading did not, even though both tests would have been affected by the changes.The state says Dallas ISD held steady on seventh-grade writing but declined in reading, science and social studies.Yet Dallas ISD’s own analysis shows significantly higher passing rates in many areas because the district looks at the results differently. Dallas ISD, for example, includes results for Spanish versions of the tests.Either way you look at it, Elizalde said the state’s preliminary results reinforce what Dallas ISD has known for some time: Reading scores need to rise.“We really have not seen significant movement forward over the last four years,” said Elizalde. “The results aren't demonstrating what our kids need to do.”To help with that, DISD is amping up efforts to boost literacy skills by, for example, launching reading academies to help teachers who aren’t language arts instructors emphasize reading skills in their classes.Elizalde said she’s focused on drilling down to campus-level results as that is key to identifying what's working and what isn't, which can be masked in larger data reports.There’s good news, too, Elizalde said.Preliminary results show that students in the DISD's collegiate academies, wrapping up their first years, are on track to outpace state scores in many areas, she said. All students in the academy at Spruce High School, for example, passed the Algebra I test.  Continue reading...

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