Here’s Why Some Students Who Fail STAAR Exams Still Graduate

About half of seniors who didn’t pass one or two exit exams still earned a diploma.

By Michael MarksJuly 11, 2016 2:44 pm

For decades, standardized testing in Texas public schools has been a high-stakes business. Whether it was the TAAS, the TAKS, or the current STAAR exam, students have long had to pass a slew of knowledge and aptitude exams to earn a high school diploma.

But in the last legislative session, Texas lawmakers passed a bill that weakened the power of standardized testing. High school seniors now take five end-of-course exams. If they fail one or two of them, they can appear before a “graduation commission” in their school district to make their case on why they should still walk the stage – as long as they meet other criteria, like having attempted the exam multiple times and maintaining high attendance rates.

Last school year more than 12,000 would-be graduates failed at least one exam, but about half of them still got diplomas.

Kiah Collier, education reporter for the Texas Tribune, says the numbers came as a surprise to some, who worried that the new system would allow students weren’t adequately prepared to graduate would pass through without much scrutiny.

“(Critics of the legislation) kind of predicted that basically all students who met this criteria would be passed along by these so-called graduation committees,” Collier says.

She says that these opponents pointed to a similar system used in fifth and eighth grades, where students who failed STAAR tests had to take alternate exams to be promoted. Often, those panels passed all of the children to the next grade.

“Critics, including the Texas Association of Business, the highest profile group against the legislation, said 90 percent or 100 percent of these kids would be passed along even when it was inappropriate,” Collier says. “So these numbers are good for proponents of this legislation.”

Opponents, however, still think that those figures are too high.

“Texas Association of Business are proponents of making testing more difficult and higher stakes,” Collier says. “They think the current battery of exams is actually too lenient. (Bill Hammond, head of the association,) did say one in two is too many, and so that’s the other side of the argument.”

The legislation is set to expire next year, so it will be up for debate during the upcoming session.

“I think that for those who favor this system … are going to walk into the next years legislative system waving these numbers on a sign, and it’ll be a big boost for their argument,” Collier says.

Post by Alexandra Hart.