TITLE 19. EDUCATION

PART 2. TEXAS EDUCATION AGENCY

CHAPTER 101. ASSESSMENT

SUBCHAPTER CC. COMMISSIONER'S RULES CONCERNING IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ACADEMIC CONTENT AREAS TESTING PROGRAM

DIVISION 4. PERFORMANCE STANDARDS

19 TAC §101.3041

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) adopts an amendment to §101.3041, concerning implementation of the academic content areas testing program. The amendment is adopted without changes to the proposed text as published in the December 9, 2016 issue of the Texas Register (41 TexReg 9685) and will not be republished. The adopted amendment establishes a final set of performance standards for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR®) Grades 3-8 and end-of-course (EOC) assessments beginning with the 2016-2017 school year.

REASONED JUSTIFICATION. In 2015, the commissioner of education adopted a standard progression approach for STAAR® performance standards from the 2015-2016 school year through the 2021-2022 school year, increasing performance standards annually toward the final recommended Level II performance standard in the 2021-2022 school year. Given the STAAR® performance results for 2012 through 2016, the commissioner is now modifying the performance labels.

The amendment to 19 TAC §101.3041 modifies Figure: 19 TAC §101.3041(b)(1) and Figure: 19 TAC §101.3041(c)(1) to replace the standard progression phase-in schedule with the final set of standards and labels indicating student performance. The amendment establishes the 2015-2016 STAAR® passing standard as the minimum passing requirement (Approaches Grade Level) and sets the panel-recommended standard as the benchmark indicating a higher level of satisfactory achievement (Meets Grade Level). The Level III performance standard is renamed Masters Grade Level to clearly indicate advanced grade-level performance on a STAAR® assessment and to articulate the relationship between each of the performance levels.

To clarify, TEA has not changed the STAAR® passing standard. Instead, the agency is revising the performance label descriptors to more accurately categorize student performance on the STAAR® assessments. The Approaches Grade Level performance encompasses the entire phase-in score range under the previous standard progression phase-in model. A student performing in this range has passed an assessment and has met any assessment grade promotion or graduation requirements.

The final performance labels and descriptors are as follows.

Does Not Meet Grade Level. This performance category applies to students scoring below Approaches Grade Level. Students at this level have not passed since performance at this level indicates a student is unlikely to succeed in the next grade or course without significant, ongoing academic intervention. Students in this category do not demonstrate a sufficient understanding of the assessed knowledge and skills.

Approaches Grade Level. The minimum score needed to meet Approaches Grade Level is the 2016 STAAR® Level II standard. Students at this level have met the assessment requirements for purposes of Student Success Initiative grade promotion and graduation and are considered to have met at least the minimum passing standard. A student achieving Approaches Grade Level is likely to succeed in the next grade or course with targeted academic intervention. Students in this category generally demonstrate the ability to apply the assessed knowledge and skills in familiar contexts.

Meets Grade Level. The minimum score needed to achieve Meets Grade Level is the STAAR® Panel Recommended passing standard. Students at this performance level have a high likelihood of success in the next grade or course but may still need some short-term, targeted academic intervention. Students in this category generally demonstrate the ability to think critically and apply the assessed knowledge and skills in familiar contexts. Students who achieve Meets Grade Level on the STAAR® Algebra II and English III assessments are sufficiently prepared for postsecondary success.

Masters Grade Level. Previously known as Advanced. The TEA expects students at Masters Grade Level to succeed in the next grade or course with little or no academic intervention. Students in this category demonstrate the ability to think critically and apply the assessed knowledge and skills in varied contexts, both familiar and unfamiliar. Students taking the STAAR® Algebra II and English III assessments who achieve Masters Grade Level are well prepared for postsecondary success.

For STAAR® EOC testing, since the standard in place when a student first takes an EOC assessment is the standard that is maintained throughout the student's school career, the 2012-2015 phase-in standard for the STAAR® EOC assessments is maintained.

The performance standards and revised labels are effective with the 2016-2017 school year.

SUMMARY OF COMMENTS AND AGENCY RESPONSES. The public comment period on the proposal began December 9, 2016, and ended January 9, 2017, and included a public hearing held on January 13, 2017. Following is a summary of public comments received, including those received at the public hearing, and corresponding agency responses.

Clarification on Approaches Grade Level and the Minimum Passing Standard (2014-2015 versus 2015-2016)

Comment: An educator asked whether the passing standard is Approaches Grade Level. More than 20 educators and individuals requested that the passing standard be maintained at the 2015-2016 satisfactory performance level. Fewer than five educators requested clarification about the impact of the proposed amendment on Grades 5 and 8 students under the Student Success Initiative (SSI) and assessment graduation requirements.

The Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) opposed increasing the STAAR® passing standards.

Agency Response: To clarify, the TEA has not changed the STAAR® passing standard. The proposed amendment maintains the minimum passing requirement at the 2015-2016 level for the duration of the STAAR® program. Approaches Grade Level encompasses the entirety of the standard progression phase-in up to the final panel-recommended standard. A student falling within this continuum has met the SSI assessment requirements for grade promotion and will not be retested during subsequent SSI retest administrations. Students at this level also meet the assessment graduation requirements to receive a Texas diploma.

Comment: Nine Texas school principals asked that the Approaches Grade Level cut be established at the 2014-2015 passing level due to the number of changes to the STAAR® standards and accountability over the past three years and because of the new adopted English language arts and reading curriculum.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees. Similar to the method used to develop the original phase-in standards in 2012, the standard progression was based on the standard deviations of scale scores. For 2015-2016, Step 1 of the performance progression only slightly increased the performance standard (0.1 standard deviation) for all assessments except the English I and English II EOC assessments. The 2015-2016 performance standard was, therefore, set at 0.9 standard deviation below the final recommended standard. The agency has determined it is not appropriate to decrease the minimum passing standard at this time, especially since the 2015-2016 progression was very modest.

Comments on Maintaining the 2015-2016 Passing Standard and the Suggested Performance Labels

Comment: Ten educators supported the proposed amendment and maintaining the minimum passing standard at the 2015-2016 performance level.

Agency Response: The agency agrees.

Comment: The Texas School Alliance (TSA) and more than 120 individuals supported the commissioner's recommendation to replace the current STAAR® standard progression phase-in plan but were concerned about whether the proposed new performance labels adequately express student performance. The same individuals suggested that the proposed performance labels be replaced. An individual commented that the STAAR® assessments may not be a reasonable indicator of postsecondary readiness and that a nationally recognized, norm-referenced assessment should be used in its place.

Agency Response: The agency agrees with the comments about replacing the STAAR® standard progression phase-in.

However, the agency disagrees that the proposed performance labels inadequately describe student performance. The revised performance label descriptors more accurately categorize student performance on the STAAR® assessments. The Approaches Grade Level performance encompasses the entire phase-in score range under the previous standard progression model. A student performing in this range has met any assessment grade promotion or graduation requirements since students in this category generally demonstrate the ability to apply the assessed knowledge and skills in familiar contexts, but the student still has not met the final panel-recommended passing standard indicating that the student is on track for postsecondary success. The Meets Grade Level standard indicates that a student is on track to be sufficiently prepared for postsecondary success.

Performance standards for STAAR® Grades 3-8 assessments are based on recommendations from standard-setting committees. These committees convened in October 2012 and were composed of Kindergarten-Grade 12 educators, and each panelist was an expert in both the assessed content and the assessed curriculum. Panelists were provided reasonable ranges within which performance standards should be set. The ranges were determined by considering the alignment of performance standards with EOC assessments and by using the results of various studies that established links between performance on STAAR® and performance on other assessments and provided research-based anchors for setting meaningful and rigorous performance standards.

Performance standards for STAAR® EOC assessments are based on recommendations from standard setting committees that were composed of both Kindergarten-Grade 12 educators and higher education faculty. Each panelist was an expert in both the assessed content and the high school curriculum. A policy committee was convened in early February 2012 to recommend reasonable score ranges within which performance standards should be set. The committee was composed of policy experts, legislative staff, business and workplace leaders, and secondary and higher education representatives, and they used the results of various studies to inform their recommendations. These studies established links between performance on STAAR® assessments and performance on other assessments and provided research-based anchors for setting meaningful and rigorous performance standards that would ultimately indicate postsecondary readiness.

According to Texas Education Code (TEC), §39.024(a), postsecondary readiness is the level of preparation a student must attain in English language arts and mathematics courses to enroll and succeed, without remediation, in an entry-level general education course for credit in that same content area for a baccalaureate degree or associate degree program or for certificates or credentials other than baccalaureate or advanced degrees.

TEA conducted extensive research to support the standard-setting process. Studies focused on creating links between STAAR® assessments and other measures of students' knowledge and skills. Some studies focused on comparisons between STAAR® assessments and corresponding Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests. Research was conducted to link STAAR® Grade 7 writing scores and Grade 8 reading, mathematics, science, and social studies scores to first-year STAAR® EOC assessment scores in the corresponding content areas. Additional studies linked STAAR® assessments to established national and international assessments such as SAT, ACT, EXPLORE, NAEP, and PISA. Finally, research was conducted to link STAAR® EOC scores to corresponding grades in entry-level, credit-bearing college courses. To support reliable and meaningful score interpretations, links between two assessments were based on the same students taking a STAAR® assessment and one of the assessments listed previously when data were available.

It should be noted that the measurement of postsecondary readiness through the district-optional STAAR® Algebra II and English III assessments are only one piece of information that students, parents, and schools will have in making readiness determinations. Algebra II and English III are courses students typically take in Grade 11. Even after a student has taken these assessments and achieved the Meets Grade Level or Masters Grade Level performance standards, the student will need to continue to take higher level courses in subsequent grades to acquire content knowledge and fully prepare for postsecondary endeavors.

The agency notes that it is legislatively mandated to develop the STAAR® assessments. Further, unlike other national tests (ACT, SAT, PSAT, etc.), the STAAR® assessments are fully aligned with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards and so offer an appropriate measure of student learning.

Comment: Seventy-nine individuals commented that the proposed performance labels are misleading or inconsistent. These individuals argued that TEC, §39.0241, requires TEA to "determine the level of performance considered to be satisfactory" on a STAAR® assessment, and the term Satisfactory Performance is then used to describe the level of performance that a student must achieve on each STAAR® EOC assessment the student is required to take in order to be eligible to graduate (see TEC, §39.025). The individuals stated that the term Satisfactory Performance is also used in connection with SSI requirements (see TEC, §28.0211). The individuals contended that for purposes of both graduation and SSI grade promotion, TEA has treated student performance on STAAR® at the Level II: Satisfactory phase-in standard as Satisfactory Performance. As a result, students and parents across the state of Texas have been told that Satisfactory Performance on STAAR® means that a student has achieved a score greater than or equal to the Level II: Satisfactory phase-in standard.

An individual asked that the current descriptors be maintained.

TSA, the Texas Association of School Administrators, and the Texas Association of Elementary School Principals commented that the Approaches Grade Level performance label is inconsistent with the agency's intent to treat this level as the minimum passing requirement. These organizations argue that the label Meets Grade Level is inconsistent because, since 2012, the label Final Level II: Satisfactory performance indicates postsecondary readiness.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees. Current performance descriptors are misleading. In previous amendments to §101.3041 since the STAAR® performance standards were established in 2012, the agency clearly communicated that the STAAR® academic performance standards are the cut scores on the tests that identify student performance as falling in Level III: Advanced Academic Performance, Level II: Satisfactory Academic Performance, or Level I: Unsatisfactory Academic Performance, but that, given the rigorous nature of the assessments and the performance standards, a phase-in period would be put in place for the gradual implementation of the final panel-recommended performance standards. Therefore, the final panel-recommended Level II standard was not implemented. Many districts have conflated the phase-in passing standard with on-track performance for postsecondary readiness, which is not correct.

As communicated in previous amendments to §101.3041, the phase-in period was meant to provide school districts time to improve instruction, provide additional professional development, increase teacher effectiveness, and close knowledge gaps. Any previous delays in moving the phase-in standard were because STAAR® testing data indicated that school districts may still have needed additional time to make necessary changes to instruction, professional development, etc., not because a phase-in standard became the defacto indicator of a student fully meeting grade-level expectations.

The agency does agree with comments that Final Level II: Satisfactory does indicate a student is on track for postsecondary readiness. As such, and as discussed in the previous response, that descriptor was renamed Meets Grade Level to clarify student performance at this level.

As discussed in the previous response, the agency revised the descriptors to more accurately categorize student performance on the STAAR® assessments but did not change the passing standard with this amendment. The Approaches Grade Level performance encompasses the entire phase-in score range under the previous standard progression model, and a student performing in this range has met any assessment grade promotion or graduation requirements since students in this category generally demonstrate the ability to apply the assessed knowledge and skills in familiar contexts. However, the student still has not met the final panel-recommended passing standard indicating that the student is on track for postsecondary success.

Comments to Suspend the Proposed Amendment

Comment: The Texas affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers requested that the agency suspend the revision to the performance standards due to accountability concerns and because the agency still has not provided evidence that the STAAR® assessments are in compliance with House Bill (H.B.) 743, 84th Texas Legislature, 2015. About 20 educators disagreed with the timing of the new descriptors since they are proposed to take effect in the middle of the school year.

The Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) recommended that the rule item be suspended. According to TAMSA, the new descriptors are premature, punitive, and difficult to understand since Approaches Grade Level indicates passing but at the same time does not indicate meeting grade level. TAMSA contended that the new descriptors will create more emphasis on test-taking strategies and will have significant accountability implications.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees. First, as explained in previous responses, the agency has not proposed to change the performance standards but rather the descriptors of the various performance levels. Second, prior to spring 2016 STAAR® testing, the agency contracted for the independent evaluation of the validity and reliability of the Grades 3-8 STAAR® assessments to ensure compliance with H.B. 743. Those studies can be found on the TEA website at http://tea.texas.gov/student.assessment/reports/. Additionally, as a result of H.B. 743, the agency has shortened affected assessments as described in agency correspondence to districts, which can be found on the TEA website at http://tea.texas.gov/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&ItemID=51539611300&libID=51539611300.

As for the timing, December is largely a STAAR® EOC retest administration and most students are unaffected. Further, previous performance standards have been maintained for first-time EOC testers so those students are also unaffected in terms of assessment graduation requirements.

Other Clarifications about the Proposed Amendment

Comment: An educator asked whether the proposed amendment will impact students taking a STAAR® Alternate 2 assessment. Fewer than five other educators requested clarification on how the new performance labels will affect special education students and the STAAR® progress measure.

Agency Response: The proposed amendment does not affect the STAAR® Alternate 2 assessments. Students using STAAR® Alternate 2 are unaffected. As for special education students taking a STAAR® assessment with or without accommodations, the new performance labels do not affect the minimum score needed to pass an assessment, nor does the proposed amendment affect a student's admission, review, and dismissal committee.

Comment: An individual asked what the current panel-recommended standard is and whether it is set at a fixed percentage of the raw score or whether the raw score percentage will change from year to year. Fewer than five individuals expressed concern that getting fewer than 70% of the questions correct on a STAAR® assessment to pass that assessment may be too low and not a meaningful indicator of grade-level performance. Another educator asked if raw score information will continue to be provided.

Agency Response: The panel-recommended standard, or Meets Grade Level under the new performance labels, for each STAAR® assessments is a fixed scale score.

As with many standardized assessments, the STAAR® program uses scale scores to communicate information about performance levels. A scale score is a more exact way to determine subject mastery than a raw score because a scale score considers the difficulty level of each individual test question in addition to whether or not a student answers the question correctly. The basic score on any test is the raw score, which is the number of questions answered correctly regardless of difficulty level. A scale score is a conversion of the raw score onto a scale that takes into account the difficulty level of the specific set of questions used on a test in any given year. A scale-score system allows every test to have exactly the same passing standard, or level of performance required, even though the raw score needed to pass the test may vary slightly from year to year. When building new tests each year, it is not always possible to select questions that have exactly the same difficulty as questions on previous versions of the test. Maintaining the passing standard, but not necessarily the raw score needed to pass, from year to year is important to ensure that students passing in one year will have exactly the same rigorous testing requirements as students passing in a subsequent year, even though the test questions differ from one year to the next. It is not appropriate to compare raw scores across test administrations, school years, or tests within the same content area such as English I and English II. When looking at passing standards, one cannot make the assumption that a lower raw score (or percent of questions correct) passing standard on one test necessarily means that the test is easier than another test with a higher raw score passing standard. For example, on one administration of STAAR® English II, the passing standard might be at 60% of the total possible points while, for that same administration, the passing standard on STAAR® English I might be at 63% of the total possible points. This difference in percent of questions answered correctly does not signify that it is easier to pass STAAR® English II than it is to pass STAAR® English I.

While many people believe a raw score that is equal to 70% of the questions correct should qualify as passing, a score that is simply the percentage of questions correct does not take into account the difficulty of the questions on a test. A student that gets 50% of the questions correct on a very difficult test will likely demonstrate a higher mastery of subject matter or course content than a student that gets 90% of the questions correct on a very easy test.

Consider the following scenario as another way to think about this. You are given a ten-question test on calculus, and you answer 7 out of 10 questions correctly, which equals 70%. Another person is given a ten-question test on multiplication and answers 7 out of 10 questions correctly, which equals 70%. Although you both answer 70% of the questions correctly, it would not be accurate to say that both of you demonstrate the same level of mathematics proficiency. Your test covered more difficult content--calculus as compared to multiplication.

Scale scores are a better indicator of a student's mastery of test content, which is fully aligned with the TEKS curriculum standards that describe what each student is expected to learn at each grade level. While raw scores on STAAR® assessments will continue to be available to students, parents, and teachers, it is important to understand that answering fewer than 70% of the questions correctly on a test does not necessarily indicate poor performance either in terms of scale scores or mastery of the assessed content.

Comment: An individual asked if, since the Every Student Succeeds Act has given authority to the state to set expectations and standards, Texas could alleviate student testing requirements.

Agency Response: The agency clarifies that Texas expectations and standards are determined or required by the Texas Legislature. The Texas Legislature has granted the commissioner of education the authority to adopt annual assessments and the corresponding performance standards in reading and mathematics in Grades 3-8 and high school, science in Grades 5 and 8 and high school, writing in Grades 4 and 7 and high school, and social studies in Grade 8 and high school. Texas does not administer any test simply because it is federally required.

Comment: ATPE, six educators, and one individual asked how the new performance labels will affect A-F accountability and Texas Academic Performance Reports or had general concerns about the A-F system.

Agency Response: Issues of accountability are outside the scope of the current rule proposal.

STATUTORY AUTHORITY. The amendment is adopted under the Texas Education Code (TEC), §39.0241(a), which authorizes the commissioner to determine the level of performance considered to be satisfactory on the assessment instruments; and TEC, §39.025(a), which authorizes the commissioner to adopt rules requiring a student in the foundation high school program under TEC, §28.025, to be administered an end-of-course assessment instrument listed in TEC, §39.023(c), only for a course in which the student is enrolled and for which an end-of-course assessment instrument is administered. A student is required to achieve a scale score that indicates satisfactory performance, as determined by the commissioner under TEC, §39.0241(a), on each end-of-course assessment instrument administered to the student.

CROSS REFERENCE TO STATUTE. The amendment implements the Texas Education Code, §39.0241(a) and §39.025(a).

The agency certifies that legal counsel has reviewed the adoption and found it to be a valid exercise of the agency's legal authority.

Filed with the Office of the Secretary of State on March 27, 2017.

TRD-201701309

Cristina De La Fuente-Valadez

Director, Rulemaking

Texas Education Agency

Effective date: April 16, 2017

Proposal publication date: December 9, 2016

For further information, please call: (512) 475-1497