AUSTIN, Texas — Scores on Texas’ standardized tests continue to make a post-pandemic rebound, but many superintendents already fear pending changes to the state’s accountability system will mean lower grades under the current A-F accountability system. 

What You Need To Know

  • STAAR end-of-course scores have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels in the latest test administration

  • Despite those gains, higher standards for college, career and military readiness are expected to impact A-F grades this fall

  • The state will expect 88% of all high school graduates to demonstrate some type of career or college readiness

The Texas Education Agency released the earliest piece of the accountability puzzle on Friday morning: passing rates on the four end-of-course tests required for high school graduation. Over the next few months, those scores will be joined by district-level data, scores on tests in Grades 3-8, and, by September, letter grades for both campuses and districts.

Overall, passing rates on the four STAAR end-of-course tests show gains, with U.S. History hitting a 95% high, a score higher than pre-pandemic levels. The 7 percentage point gain on biology, up to 89%, is the biggest year-over-year gain on the current test. And scores on English I and English II — 71% and 74%, respectively — also are higher than the test administration in Spring 2019.

All four tests were redesigned over the last four years to reflect more closely what is being taught in the classroom. Changes included new question types that are not multiple choice, passages that cover more than one subject area and writing passages incorporated into the reading-language arts tests. The test administration in the last school year also was the first year all students took tests online. 

The new tests are all calibrated to the passing rates of the prior assessment. The cut scores for passing the test, which is referred to as “approaching grade level,” were adjusted but not raised. Student achievements, or academic gains on these tests, will be 40% of the overall letter grade for a high school when the Texas Education Agency releases ratings this fall.

Another 40% of the letter grade for a high school will be the various component scores of Career College & Military Readiness, or CCMR. That means the ability to show a graduate is college or career ready is as important in scoring a campus as whether students pass the STAAR.

The final 20% of the grade is the high school’s ability to close the achievement gap between student groups, a gap that typically shows up when data is disaggregated to compare various ethnic groups or when measuring socioeconomic status. 

TEA, after five years under the same standards, now intends to raise the requirements for Career, College & Military Readiness. The vast majority of school districts hit the required 65% to get an “A” in the current system, according to the agency. Therefore, the standard for an “A” in CCMR this fall will shift to 88%. The state’s goal is that 100% of high school graduates are career or college ready, or enlisted in the military.

The changes are alarming some school superintendents. One explanation, provided by Austin ISD, notes a campus that could document 60% of its graduates had met at least one CCMR indicator would get an “A” under the current system. That same campus, with that identical score, will now get a “D” under the revised CCMR measure. “Same data, different rules,” Dallas ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said in a tweet this week.

Commissioner Mike Morath, during comments at the most recent State Board of Education meeting, said the so-called “five-year rule” was an agreement among negotiators when the new A-F letter grades were passed by lawmakers in 2017, with House Bill 22. 

“Prior to 2017, state law required whoever was the commissioner to essentially tweak the accountability system every single year. You would raise cut points. You’d make changes. So every single year there were small changes in the accountability framework for schools,” Morath said. “It actually made it hard to discern whether the campus was doing worse, because the state changed the rules.”

Those goalposts are now stable, with changes only occurring every five years, Morath said. That means the changes that occur this year will be fairly large ones, as the system attempts to be more fair and transparent. To explain those changes, TEA will provide a “what if” scenario for all grades. The school and district will get the grades under the new system; then, a separate set of grades will be generated under the old system. 

“It’s really designed to help parents understand the new ratings this year,” Morath said. “When you go to the website, it will try to provide a way for people to understand, did it get better? Did it stay the same? Or did it get worse?”

One other change also will be significant. In the past, TEA has combined campus scores and averaged them in order to get a district score. It scored the district, with all its students, like one large school campus. Now, campus scores will be weighted according to size. A high school has more students, so a high school score now will be a bigger proportion of the overall school district score. 

Other changes in the accountability system also are in the works. TEA is phasing in more rigorous standards for industrial-based certifications. The agency also has set new standards for military readiness. Military enlistment will be incorporated into the CCMR measure in the 2024 accountability ratings.