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SUPERINTENDENT’S MESSAGE: Basing district grades on STAAR test doesn’t add up

There is nothing fair to students or parents about using a one-time multiple-choice test to label schools and districts. I shared this message recently during a community forum. To support my statement, I have included below a math question from the 2018 Third Grade STAAR test that I also shared with community members.

Hakeem received 13 phone calls on Tuesday. This expression can be used to show the number of phone calls he received on Saturday: 13 x 4.

Which statement is true?

F. Hakeem received 4 more phone calls on Saturday than he received on Tuesday.

G. Hakeem received 4 more phone calls on Tuesday than he received on Saturday.

H. Hakeem received 4 times as many phone calls on Saturday as he received on Tuesday.

J. Hakeem received 4 times as many phone calls on Tuesday as he received on Saturday.

Choice H is the correct answer. Did I mention this was a math question? Now, imagine if you had to answer this math question and you have a reading disability or English is not your first language. Parents are always surprised when they learn that the Third Grade STAAR math test does not have any questions in which students are given an algorithm to calculate, such as 89 x 34 = ?   

In reviewing the item analysis for the test, there are some interesting findings. Only 55 percent of all third-graders in the state of Texas correctly answered the above problem, and there were five other questions on the third-grade math test that only 55 percent or fewer students answered correctly. In addition, there were four questions that only 56-58 percent of all students in the state of Texas answered correctly. With so many students not answering these questions correctly, is the problem with the students or the test items?

In Burnet Consolidated Independent School District, there were 15 third-graders who were only one question away from passing the Third Grade STAAR math test. When, as a district, we were two points away from receiving a letter grade of B, that one question means a lot to the student’s performance and the district’s rating. The fact is, a single letter grade does not tell the full story. In an article, school finance accountability expert Moak, Casey and Associates wrote: “To a great extent, the state’s inaugural A-F grading system could be considered a proxy for identifying schools that serve high-poverty student populations rather than an indication of educational quality.”

With that said, our staff is committed to preparing students for the future and the state assessments this spring. I have the opportunity to see our teachers and principals in action every day, and I am so impressed by the focused work they are undertaking to make sure students are as prepared as possible for all of the different ways the state measures student achievement. I do not agree with the current accountability system, but, as a district, we will do what’s right for students while also striving to receive a letter grade that better represents the efforts of our staff and students.   

On behalf of the BCISD Board of Trustees and the administration, I would like to wish our students, parents, and community a happy Thanksgiving. All campuses and district offices will be closed the week of Nov. 19-23. When classes resume on Monday, Nov. 26, we will have four weeks of school before the end of the first semester and Christmas break, which is scheduled for Dec. 24-Jan. 7. To kick off the Christmas season, Burnet High School would like to invite the community to attend the third annual Tree Lighting Ceremony in the school’s courtyard amphitheater from 6-8 p.m. Nov. 29. You can put an ornament on the tree, listen to caroling, and drink hot cocoa to help get the community in the Christmas spirit.

I hope you will join us.