LHISD grades 3-8 out-perform area schools on STAAR

By SHELLY WILKISON

Liberty Hill students in grades three through eight out-performed their counterparts in District 8-3A, Region 13 and topped state averages on the spring 2012 administration of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR).

Although it’s been almost a year since Texas students took the

STAAR exams for the first time last spring, passing standards for elementary and middle school tests  were only recently finalized delaying the release of the results. Liberty Hill parents will receive notice of their student’s performance with report cards later this month.

Results of 2012 high school end of course exams were released in June 2012.

The elementary and middle school STAAR tests all students in reading and math, plus grades four and seven in writing, grades five and eight in science and grade eight in social studies.

Of the six school districts that compete in District 8-3A, Liberty Hill students had a higher passing rate on all but two tests — fifth grade science and third grade math — where Llano students earned the higher marks.

“These are schools pretty much like us, and we look good in comparison,” said Liberty Hill ISD Curriculum Director Claudeane Braun. “I am really pleased.”

In comparison to the state averages, Liberty Hill passing rates were significantly higher. On most exams, Liberty Hill scores were 10-20 percentage points higher than the state average. Local passing rates were also higher than the average in Region 13, which includes most of Central Texas school districts.

But while Mrs. Braun and Liberty Hill administrators are celebrating the good news, she said she is also looking at the numbers realistically.

The passing standards were set lower on the first two administrations of the test (spring 2012 and 2013). Therefore, students who passed the tests were only required to correctly answer 39-69 percent  of the questions, depending on the exam.

For example, eighth grade students taking the math exam were only required to correctly answer 39 percent of the questions in order to pass. Liberty Hill’s passing rate on that test was 96 percent.

The highest passing standard for elementary and middle school exams was set for fifth grade science where students were required to answer 66 percent of the questions correctly in order to pass. On that test, Liberty Hill’s passing rate was 79 percent — two points higher than the Region 13 average and 6 points higher than the state average.

“We are doing well with the lower bar, but we have to keep an eye on that,” said Mrs. Braun.

By 2016, passing standards will increase in all testing categories, some by as much as 25 percentage points.

Mrs. Braun said Liberty Hill has a plan for helping students reach the higher bar sooner.

“2016 sounds far off, but we have to work backward to be successful,” she said.

Mrs. Braun explained that she is taking current results and comparing how students would have performed at the 2016 passing standards.

“That (number) looks much lower,” she said. “Then, we are setting realistic goals for each year until then. We want to do substantially better each time so that we’re ready for this (2016 standards).

“We’re looking at it short range and figuring out what is realistic for us, and what we have to do to get this score or higher in 2016,” she said.

Mrs. Braun noted that when the state first introduced the TAKS tests (the predecessor to STAAR), the passing standards were also phased in over time.

In Liberty Hill, the lowest passing rate was on the fifth grade science exam and the eighth grade social studies exam, with both passing rates at 79 percent. Third grade math was next on the low end with 80 percent passing.

Although still well above the state and regional averages, Mrs. Braun said teachers are already working on ways to improve student performance in those areas.

“I think a lot of it has to do with academic vocabulary. Students have to be able to comprehend what they’re asking,” she said.

Spring 2012 was the first time third grade students were tested in math.

On math exams, students are not simply asked to add, subtract, multiply and divide, they are asked to use a “multi-step process to arrive at a solution,” Mrs. Braun said.

“They’re pretty young, and that process is kind of hard for our kids,” she said.

Accountability ratings for each school district are based for the most part on student performance on standardized testing. Districts will receive an accountability rating in late summer based on student performance on the spring 2012 STAAR tests, Mrs. Braun said.

Elementary and middle school students will take the STAAR exams in March and April. High school end of course exams are given in late May.

When parents receive their student’s STAAR performance reports at the end of the month, they will notice information about how to access to the student’s testing history online. Each student has a unique access code enabling the parent to track the student’s previous performance on state assessments. The information will be updated with each test through grade 12.