Are Students Below Reading Level or Is the Test Inaccurate?

By Dana Goldstein and Manny Fernandez   

MESQUITE, Tex. — Reading is 9-year-old Kristen Hernandez’s thing. She pores over mystery books, stories about vampires and even a college-level anatomy textbook that her mother is studying to become an X-ray technician.

So when her parents, Jessica and Alberto Hernandez, found out last summer that she had scored below grade level on the reading section of Texas’ annual high-stakes standardized test, they figured she had just had a bad test day. After all, Kristen is prone to nervousness, pushing her tortoiseshell glasses onto her forehead and rubbing her temples.

But now a group of prominent state school superintendents and education experts is arguing that Texas has mistakenly identified Kristen and thousands of other students as falling short, when in fact their performance on the state test is well within grade-level reading standards.

The test, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or Staar, can have profound consequences not just for students but for schools across the state, hundreds of which have been deemed inadequate and are subject to interventions that critics say are undue.

Many Texas students who were told they had not reached grade-level reading expectations on the Staar test also received separate scores that are at grade level. In addition, experts have raised concerns about the quality of questions on the exams, and whether they are appropriate for children in the tested grades.

Facing growing pressure from educators, the State Legislature has scheduled a hearing this week to consider the future of the test. But the Texas Education Agency continues to stand by Staar, saying the system is fair and supported by research.

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