DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
MARBLE FALLS — Progress with a dash of caution was how school officials described the recent preliminary Texas standardized testing results.
“We are encouraged by some of the gains we made,” said Shelley Reavis, Burnet Consolidated Independent School District director of elementary curriculum. “We’re certainly not where we need to be.”
Down the road about 15 miles, Marble Falls Independent School District officials echoed her synopsis.
“We have lots of areas we need to celebrate,” said Eric Penrod, MFISD director of secondary academic programs. “But we do have areas we need to work on.”
The Texas Education Agency released preliminary results of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness and the Texas Assessments of Knowledge and Skills exams. While the state transitioned to the STAAR tests last year, some high school students still fall under the auspices of the TAKS exam.
Students begin taking state-required standardized tests in the third grade. The subject of exams often depends on the grade level. In high school, students take end-of-course exams as part of the STAAR system, though juniors still took the TAKS test. Penrod noted this will be the last year any high school student takes the TAKS exams.
In Burnet, elementary school students showed growth in several areas. BCISD third- and fourth-graders exhibited some of the biggest gains, Reavis said.
MFISD students showed growth in several subjects. One of the most important comparisons wasn’t last year’s third-graders to this year’s third-graders, but looking at the same students from 2012 to 2013. Lee Courville, MFISD director of elementary academic programs, noted that by looking at results from, for example, third-graders last year and fourth-graders this year, officials get a better look at how students actually improved or didn’t improve.
On the 2012 STAAR math test, 72 percent of MFISD third-graders met or exceeded the state-required standard. But in 2013, 84 percent of those same students as fourth-graders met or exceeded state math standards.
And 92 percent of MFISD fifth-graders met or exceeded state standards on the 2013 STAAR math test, but only 72 percent of fourth-graders last year hit the mark.
“We’ve made a lot of gains,” Courville said.
At the high school level, Penrod said one of the most exciting things coming out of the preliminary report is how much the achievement gap is closing between economically disadvantaged students and the rest of the student body. Typically, Penrod said, there is a large gap.
According to end-of-course exams in biology, Algebra I, world geography and chemistry, MFISD staff and students are closing the gap. At Marble Falls High School, 94 percent of the students classified as economically disadvantaged met or exceeded the state end-of-course standard for biology. This is equal to the percent of all the Marble Falls High School students who took that exam.
Even at the middle school level, Marble Falls students showed similar results.
“Our economic disadvantage students basically eliminated the gap in reading at the eighth-grade level,” Penrod said.
While Burnet and Marble Falls officials noted the reasons for celebrating, they also pointed out areas students and staff had to address.
Reavis told BCISD board members June 17 that student reading scores weren’t where staff hoped they would end up.
It was the same in Marble Falls, both at secondary and elementary levels.
“Reading and writing are areas we’re going to focus on,” Courville said.
He added the district is returning to a phonics program for younger students, something MFISD apparently moved away from several years ago.
MFISD board member Craig Mabray, though pleased with the student achievement, voiced concern that much of the results were based on or compared to the state average.
“It’s good to see the improvement, but we met the state average,” he said. Mabray added he didn’t want the district to get into the mindset that “average” is good enough.
Trustee Kelly Fox added the district can’t become complacent but should continue to focus on making progress. But she also noted the 2013 results as well as those who got the students there should be celebrated.
“The teachers worked their (butts) off,” she said. “We need to celebrate the successes.”
Picayune staff writer Jennifer Fierro contributed to this story.