A confounding set of regulations for new end-of-year exams that the Texas Legislature ordered public schools to begin giving next month has districts statewide scrambling to come up with their own grading systems because lawmakers failed to provide critical guidelines on administering grades.

This has resulted in some local districts coming up with much tougher grading rubrics than others. That has rightly angered some parents who fear the tests aren’t equitable.

The new State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness tests (STAAR) are to be administered to students beginning March 26. Given to third- through ninth-graders, these tests are expected to be far harder than the previous TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) tests that STAAR now replaces.

We have no beef with challenging students or holding teachers accountable for ensuring students understand material. But we have a problem with tests being administered statewide with no uniform grading system. That’s not fair to students, teachers and districts that rely on state funding based, at least in part, on student grades (though this first-year test won’t affect that).

Apples to oranges

New state law requires that STAAR tests count as 15 percent of students’ final course grades. But the Texas Education Agency has not supplied districts with the grading matrix for converting STAAR test scores as numeric grades toward student report cards.

As a result, districts are coming up with their own grading systems. Some South Texas districts, for instance, pledge to give all students who take the test an automatic 100. Our two largest local districts, meanwhile, pledge to be tougher in how they grade students. And that makes comparing grades between districts apples to oranges. It doesn’t benefit students, schools or taxpayers.

The Waco Independent School District has come up with a fairly safe grading rubric that would give a student who passes at a minimum satisfactory performance level a 90; anything higher equals 100. Midway ISD has instilled a much tougher system: Students must pass at the highest level to score a 90 and must make a perfect score in order to get a 100.

Further discrepancies include Waco ISD’s choice to not include STAAR tests in students’ class ranking and GPA. On the other hand, Midway has chosen to do so.

Parents angry

By being more exacting, Midway’s method would seem to unnecessarily penalize students and jeopardize their overall grade-point average. That could later influence whether these students make their class’s top 10 percent and are accepted into prestigious colleges.

This has Midway parents rightfully concerned. At a Midway High School PTA meeting Thursday, Kristen Pool and other moms peppered the principal with questions about why the class of 2015 is a “guinea pig” in what obviously is a much bigger problem involving state politics and bureaucratic inefficiency.

We’d also like to know. This train has obviously left the station before its cargo was properly packed and inspected. The issue needs to be taken up by the Legislature pronto. Testing should be postponed until a uniform grading system is established statewide.

As Waco ISD Superintendent Bonny Cain told us, “When it’s this time of the year and we’re having to make up our own stuff and they’re not giving us answers, then it’s not ready.”

What makes this even more frustrating is that at a time when school districts like Waco ISD are busy trying to find ways to cut costs and close buildings to meet a $3.5 million budget shortfall — in part caused by the Legislature — they’re also wasting resources coming up with a grading system for a test that very definitely fails to meet the mark.

 

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