This story was originally published by Texas Monthly, and can be found here.
Opponents of the STAAR test have new evidence that the reading portion of the standardized exam given to all Texas schoolchildren remains flawed.
Professors Susan Szabo and Becky Barton Sinclair, both of Texas A&M University-Commerce, have just released a new report, “Readability of the STAAR Test is Still Misaligned,” that reaffirms what the two found in their similar 2012 study: that, for the most part, reading tests given to students in grades 3–8 are at a level of difficulty at least one year above grade level.
Szabo and Sinclair used eight different readability formulas to examine the reading portion of the STAAR, as opposed to the five they used in 2012. A careful reading of the paper shows what could be interpreted as an astounding lack of consistency: some test questions were written below grade level, while others were written far above. For instance, all five passages on the fourth-grade test were “misaligned,” with one question below grade level and four above. In sixth grade, one question was written at the appropriate grade level, three were above, and one was below.
Maybe the strangest thing about the professors’ findings—in 2012 and today—is that the only reading tests at or below grade level are those in eighth grade, when students are trying to move into high school and might not advance if they don’t pass the test after three tries. State Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, worries that this could foster a situation in which high school students will struggle with reading at grade level.
Szabo and Sinclair’s new paper could cause additional legislative migraines for the Texas Education Agency and its commissioner, Mike Morath, who has stuck to his guns in the face of mounting evidence that the STAAR doesn’t measure what it’s supposed to, and, in turn, is hurting Texas children, teachers, schools, and even the economics of neighborhoods.