• December 22, 2014

STAAR testing changes raise concerns

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Posted: Saturday, March 8, 2014 9:38 pm

BELTON — With high stakes testing a concern of local schools, increased requirements for special education students are compounding an already difficult situation, area educators and officials said.

At a school board meeting earlier this year, Jill Ross, director of special education for the Belton Independent School District, said educators are bracing for more changes in state testing. She said the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness will be significantly different.

“We won’t be able to see the new test until August,” Ross said. “This is the last year for the STAAR modified test (for special-needs students).

Belton ISD school board President Randy Pittenger said he was alarmed by the looming changes.

“To think that’s going to ratchet down on our special ed students, it’s hard to understand the reasoning,” Pittenger said.

Nick Farley, superintendent of Priority Charter Schools, which has campuses in Temple, Killeen, Georgetown and elsewhere in Central Texas, said he also is concerned about high stakes testing.

“To me, it all goes back to No Child Left Behind — that’s the part that alarms me,” he said. “All kids are not the same; they don’t learn the same way. To expect every student to take the same test and to require each of them to make a high score causes some kids to feel like failures.”

The STAAR requirements are in line with the federal government’s philosophy via No Child Left Behind, Farley said.

“Someone sitting at an office desk somewhere makes rules for children that are impossible,” he said. “They don’t know children, because they aren’t in the classroom. You have to be in the classroom to understand what’s best for our children.”

Salado Superintendent Michael Novotny began his career as a special education instructor with Plano ISD in 1996. He has seen a cumulative effect on high stakes testing on special education students over the years.

“It’s one more step in a continuing trend,” Novotny said. “In the past, a district ARD (admission, review and dismissal) committee determined whether it was appropriate for special education students to take any state test.

“It used to be that special education students who took the state tests didn’t count in a district’s accountability rating. At that time, only the nonspecial education students’ scores counted.”

Federal No Child Left Behind laws were the driving force in chipping away at test accommodations for special needs students, Novotny said.

“Under No Child Left Behind, only 1 percent of kids in a district could take an alternate version of the (standardized state test), and only 2 percent could take the modified version,” he said. “Above that, they were considered failures even if the kids passed the test. All this was mandated by the feds.”

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