Testing in Texas: An Overview

A GreatSchools guide to standardized tests

By GreatSchools Staff

Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. Beginning spring 2012, Texas will use State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) to replace the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). For students grades 3-8, the STAAR program will assess the same subjects that are currently assessed on TAKS. For high school students, the 12 end-of-course (EOC) assessments (Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, biology, chemistry, physics, English I, English II, English III, world geography, world history, and U.S. history) will replaced the grade-specific assessements.

Using test results and other criteria, Texas assigns schools and districts an Accountability Rating. High performing schools and districts can also receive the Gold Performance Acknowledgments (GPA) designation.

Although test results can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom, they don't tell you everything about the quality of a school. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final determination.

The information provided on GreatSchools profiles is for the 2009-2010 school year.

Tests in Texas

Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS)

The TAKS tests the skills outlined in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) learning standards. The standards outline what students should learn in every grade in Texas.

Each spring, students in Texas take the TAKS tests in reading in grades 3 through 9; in writing in grades 4 and 7; in English language arts in grades 10 and 11; in mathematics in grades 3 through 11; in science in grades 5, 8, 10 and 11; and in social studies in grades 8, 10 and 11.

Alternative assessments

Special Education students who are receiving instruction according to TEKS standards but for whom the TAKS is inappropriate take either the TAKS-Modified (TAKS-M) or the TAKS-Alternate (TAKS-Alt).

Limited English proficient (LEP) students, in addition to taking the TAKS in Spanish, must take the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) assessments. The goal is to help students become English proficient and get them on track to take the TAKS in English. Students identified as limited English proficient (LEP) are permitted to take the TAKS in Spanish for up to three years. After that, those who are not ready to take the TAKS in English work closely with a grade-placement committee consisting of the school principal, their teacher and a parent to get on track.

Students in grades 3 through 10 who are classified as exempt from the TAKS on the basis of limited English proficiency take the math TAKS with language help under the Linguistically Accommodated Testing (LAT) initiative. Linguistic accommodations vary and can include the use of bilingual dictionaries to find definitions of difficult words and reading assistance, in which test administrators read aloud words or sentences from the test.

How are the tests scored?

TAKS results show the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in each of the subject areas tested. Students receive one of two ratings: met standard or commended performance. The goal is for all students to meet or exceed the state standard.

Which results are included on GreatSchools profiles?

Results for the English version of the TAKS are included on GreatSchools profiles. Results for the Spanish version of the TAKS are not included.

GreatSchools also displays subgroup results to show how different groups of students are scoring in comparison to the overall student population in a given grade and subject. These subgroups are identified by the Texas Education Agency; if there are a small number of students in a particular group in a school, data is not reported for that group.

Why do the test results matter?

TAKS results provide an indication of whether students are making progress toward mastery of state content standards. All students must pass the grade 3 TAKS in reading in order to be promoted to grade 4. Students have three opportunities to take the test: in March, April and July, and they receive remedial help if they do not pass. If a student is retained, parents can appeal to a grade-placement committee at the local school. Grade 5 students are required to pass both the reading and math TAKS tests in order to be promoted to grade 6. Starting in 2007-2008, students must also pass the grade 8 TAKS reading and math exams to be promoted to grade 9.

Students must pass the grade 11 Exit Level TAKS in all four subjects tested - English language arts, math, science and social studies - in order to graduate from high school. Students who do not pass the test in grade 11 will have several opportunities to retake the test. A Student Guide to Graduation from the Texas Education Agency explains the requirements. 

It is important to be aware of both your child's score on the assessments and the overall score for her school. If your child scores below the standards, contact the teacher to discuss getting additional assistance, and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home. If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you can do to help. If your child is in a failing school, ask what your options are for transferring and obtaining supplemental services.

Texas Accountability Ratings

The Accountability Ratings show how well schools and districts are performing across all grades and all subjects against the state standards. To calculate the Accountability Ratings, the state looks at performance on the TAKS test. Other factors also weigh into the ratings, including student subgroup performance on tests, TAKS (Accomodated) test scores for special education students in some subjects, dropout rates for middle schools and school completion rates for high schools.  Using these indicators, the state rates schools as Exemplary, Recognized, Academically Acceptable or Academically Unacceptable. Districts that have one or more schools rated as Academically Unacceptable cannot receive a rating of Exemplary or Recognized.

What are "AEA" schools and districts and how are they rated?

Some schools and districts are rated under alternative education accountability (AEA) procedures. These schools and districts serve students at risk of dropping out, recovered dropouts, pregnant or parenting students, adjudicated students, students with severe discipline problems, and expelled students. In calculating Accountability Ratings for AEA schools and districts, the state evaluates performance on the TAKS, school completion rates and dropout rates. Based on these indicators, the state rates AEA schools as either Academically Acceptable or Academically Unacceptable. Although the indicators are the same as for standard schools, the criteria to meet the level of Academically Acceptable are specific to AEA schools.

Why do the ratings matter?

A designation of "Academically Unacceptable" suggests that the overall student population at the school is not meeting the state's expectations.

What if my child attends an Academically Unacceptable school?

If your child attends an Academically Unacceptable school, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you can do to help. Because these schools are likely to face consequences under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, your child may be eligible to receive federal and/or state money for tutoring or to transfer to another school.

Why do some schools and districts not have Accountability Ratings?

Schools and districts must have at least one TAKS test result to obtain an Accountability Rating. Some schools or districts with a very small number of total TAKS results may also be excluded from the ratings process. If your school's rating is not listed on GreatSchools, contact your principal for more information.

Gold Performance Acknowledgments (GPA)

The 2007-2008 Gold Performance Acknowledgments (GPA) recognize schools and districts for performance on up to 14 indicators. These indicators include:

How is the GPA determined?

To be considered for the GPA, schools and districts must have a Texas Accountability Rating of Academically Acceptable or higher and must meet the state's acknowledgement criteria on one or more of the indicators listed above. The acknowledgment criteria vary across grade levels for different indicators. For example, the criteria for attendance rates are a minimum of 95% for high schools, 96% for middle schools and 97% for elementary schools. For more information about the acknowledgment criteria for the other indicators, see the Texas Education Agency's 2008 Accountability Manual.

Why do some schools and districts not have acknowledgments?

Some schools and districts lack the data that is needed to calculate acknowledgments. Schools and districts that have not met the state's GPA criteria are not eligible to receive acknowledgments.

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