San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas


COMMENTARY by BRAD ROLLINS

San Marcos CISD Superintendent Mark Ead’s decision to withhold districtwide STAAR results from the public can only beg one question: How bad is it?

Parents — and taxpayers — in the Hays, Austin, Round Rock, Leander, Pflugerville, Del Valle, Lake Travis, Eanes and Hutto school districts all know how their public school students collectively performed on the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. These numbers are especially important for this year’s ninth graders who won’t be able to graduate unless they pass the battery of assessments by the time they complete 12th grade.

But Eads has taken the position that the school district is not going to release grade-by-grade, school-by-school or even districtwide results to the public until the Texas Education Agency does it for them. That gives them time to spin — I mean “explain” — the results to school board members, parents and students.

In the long tradition of dissembling, convoluted San Marcos CISD news releases, here’s what the school district had to say:

Our intent is not to withhold information, but to provide meaningful and accurate information to our parents, children, and community.

As you are aware, the TEA has not released passing standards for the 3-8 STAAR assessments and will not do so until January 2013. We wanted parents to have a general idea of how our children performed based on a raw score that the TEA provided.

We made the decision to provide information that was meaningful and relevant to the students and their families. (Just as we would provide an academic grade to students as a measure of their progress on a course.) To compare districts at this point without a passing standard for the STAAR 3-8 is incomprehensible.

As for the STAAR EOC assessments, the TEA has provided families and students with their confidential student report(s) for the assessments they took this Spring.

To clear things up; the SMCISD is releasing all scores at the student level. Inevitably, as the accountability system is fully developed, the SMCISD will have district level scores released by the TEA.

In other words, the district is telling each student how he or she scored — but not how students in the district as a whole scored compared to other districts.

The scores will come out eventually and we we’ll know the answer to our questions. More concerning to me is the poor judgement it takes to say: “Hey, let’s just not tell people how we did and maybe they won’t notice.”

It’s a disappointing position for a superintendent who the community has entrusted with sound management of its public schools.

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30 thoughts on “Brad Rollins’ Blog: How bad can San Marcos STAAR scores be?

  1. The title of this piece says it all – “How bad can San Marcos STAAR scores be?” — if the scores were good, the district would be happy to quickly share the info, rather than spinning and stalling as usual…

  2. Many districts appear to have done poorly. Adjectives like “sobering” are not hard to find in the various discussions. There is no shortage of evidence that “everyone” did poorly, which could be used to deflect any criticism.

    That SMCISD is not releasing the information certainly does make me wonder just how bad our scores are. So much for transparency.

  3. Also, how is it incomprehensible to compare us to other districts, without a passing standard? The passing standard has nothing to do with how we performed, relative to other districts. How do we stack up against our neighbors? Against other districts similar to ours?

  4. Dan, I did not. I inquired about it through the district’s spokesperson and was sent that statement.

  5. I’m not even sure how this provides value to parents.

    If your child received a score of X, and you don’t know if that is a passing score, don’t know how it compares to the rest of the students in the district, and don’t know how it compares to other districts, what do you learn, exactly? How is that “meaningful and relevant?”

  6. How can anyone expect our community to be engaged, involved, or supportive of our local school district if the SMCISD withholds information from the public?

    GREAT QUESTION – “How bad can San Marcos STAAR scores be?”

  7. Though never a defender of this ISD, I hope Mr. Eads’s not disclosing district scores means that he and his board deem that the STAARs test to be irrevelent to igniting that one spark in every kid for them to seek out his destiny. I hope Eads + board “just said, ‘no'” finally to the standardized testing fraud!

  8. I think the state of the public schools in San Marcos impacts the community’s ability to grow single-family neighborhoods and attract good industry. What Eads is doing doesn’t help. The school board, as someone said, needs to step in. And the community and board need to step up and help the district improve. Seventy percent of the students in the district are on free and reduced-price lunch. San Marcos has horrible per capita income figures and only 27 percent of the city’s residents own homes. If these aren’t wake-up calls for community improvement, I’m not sure what is. Surely the school board and city can work together for improvement.

  9. Mr. Haney, while I share some of your belief in the fraud of standardized testing, the “just say no’ concept comes from the very same right wing of the political spectrum that got us stuck with standardized testing. Perhaps a better metaphor is in order.

  10. Winchester, Pick your own metaphor. I don’t believe Nancy Reagan had standardized testing in mind with “Just say no!” unless she channeled it somehow? So, cut the right wing crap and let those words stand alone. So, let’s see how far back you want to go with standardized testing–TABS, TEAMS, TAAS, TAKS, maybe others before STAARs. Do you know why there are so many iterations of the standardized tests? They change so often in order to provide cover for another generation of “professional educators” who cannot be blamed for rotten test scores until a multi-year data base is accumulated and adjustments are made to the test questions for a given test. Then the test changes to start the cycle over again and allow adminstrators to retire or move on before they must be held accountable for the next generation of test scores. I believe TABS and TEAMS preceded your so-called right wing influence over standardized testing. Back in the olden days, probably before you were born, San Marcos used the Iowa Test for Educational Development and it was our single standardized test and told the story of individual students and how he compared with his age cohorts nationwide. I doubt if any idiot politician then or now could relate to such an apolitical idea.

  11. My daughter’s scores were sent to us. The scores aren’t normed, they are raw scores so it is hard to know what the scores mean. I think this is because it is the first year of the test, although this article may have provided me an answer to why they cannot give a percentile or standardized score. In my opinion, it is a good idea to withhold the scores given there is no comparison measure.

    San Marcos’ population reflects Texas’ population in demographics and income, I believe. Most Texans are making it but can use some help. I agree community programs are a great thing. People with money can choose to live in suburbs, which San Marcos has a number. Canyon Lake, Wimberley, Navarro for some examples. As citizens of this state and nation we can address some of these issues of poverty and failing educational systems by who we place in office. I don’t think these test scores, whether released or not, will have a grave impact on the state of the city or district.

  12. I agree that standardized tests are BS, but IMO, they are BS because it is so easy to pass them, while learning nothing – teaching to the test. I do not believe that has been the primary issue in San Marcos.

    I disagree with Ms. Miller. There is a means to compare. Compare how we did, to how other districts did. In fact, since there has been no opportunity for any district to teach to the test yet, these early results may paint the clearest picture of how well we are doing, relative to other districts.

  13. Bill: Do you think there is some sort of educational cabal at work with standardized testing? Really? If education had its way there would be very little testing done and they would definitely not keep making the test more difficult to make themselves look bad.

    The testing keeps changing due to many political, economic, and social factors, but these changes are hardly being driven by “professional educators” looking for cover. The schools were just beginning to get a handle on TAKS so why would said cabal choose this time to introduce a much more rigorous test?

    Now, if you want to talk about some sort of inside force trying to make public schooling look incompetent in an effort to make vouchers more appealing you might have an argument. Or, if you want to follow the public $$$ (over 1 billion dollars just for DEVELOPMENT) of the STAAR test and who gets what contract and which politicians are pushing for the new testing while simultaneously taking money from the testing industry lobbyists you might also have an argument.

    But to lay this testing idiocy at the feet of “professional educators” is simply knee-jerk and ignorant. There are many issues with the teaching profession in general but this is not one of them.

  14. Do standardized test benefit the students? No. Teachers? No. Taxpayers? No. Who then other than the testing companies?

    So I would suggest, follow the money. Which legislators got the most money from the testing companies? Perhaps the authors of the legislation requiring them?

  15. New tests benefit publishers. Texas standardized tests have a life cycle of about 4-6 years. The TEKS haven’t changed much, so the tests have to change to keep publishers in busineSS.

    I always thought the purpose of Tx standardized testing was to monitor that all sub population groups were getting an equal education. It was kind of a report card on how a school/district was addressing all groups, not so much a feedback on how an individual student did.

    That’s why I’m surprised test scores have become part of the individual’s EOC grade. Just wait til you see the convoluted points formula for determining high school students’ passing standards on the tests…

  16. Mr. Rollins-
    Do you have direct links to above mentioned schools and their released data?

    I tried to find HCISD’s and AISD’s data but only got articles with general comments about scores.

    Are the districts releasing all grade level scores or only high school?

    Thanks

  17. As the executive director of United Way of Hays County, I invite each of you to get involved and try to help our school district with a tough job…educating our future.

    GIVE: donate to the Young Readers Become Leaders book drive to help get books in the hands of some of the youngest members of our society, join our Young Leaders Society and help us create new programs and support existing ones that help the children in Hays County,

    ADVOCATE: do what you are doing…advocate on behalf of the youngest members of our community who have yet to find their voice, talk to your neighbors, family and people on the street about ways to get involved.

    VOLUNTEER: give up your lunch one day a week to spend it in our schools mentoring or tutoring our children, become a big brother or big sister, help UWHC with our initiatives.

    Whatever you do, please help us help the youngest members of our community so that they have a chance for a brighter future. If each of you who commented on this site would donate $10 to the book drive, you would each be providing 4 books to a family in need. Let’s help our school by making sure our kids enter school ready to succeed!

  18. Cruizer,

    Neither of those districts has a single page with all of the results available on-demand, as you might expect. However, both Austin ISD CISD have a range of data about their students’ performance in contrast to San Marcos CISD.

    This article from Hays Free Press discusses the Hays CISD results but apparently they’re only printing the results themselves in the print edition. That edition of the paper is on news stands now.

    http://haysfreepress.com/2012/06/20/staar-test-results-are-in/

    This is the press release Austin ISD issued announcing the release of their middle and high school scores. I don’t know if they’ve releasing grade school scores but I’ve sent them a note asking.

    http://www.austinisd.org/articles/austin-isd-students-performed-best-math-and-science-new-staar-test-and-make-gains-grade-11

  19. Thanks Mr. Rollins. I had found Hay’s news release but not the Austin one.

    I’m confused. I didn’t think TEA had set a passing standard for 3-8 th grade tests so how was Austin able to tell how many middle school students passed Algebra?
    Re austin’s graph, it looks like the middle school algebra exam was not more rigorous if 97% of students passed it.

    Does Hays data include EOC and/or 3-8th data?

    The news releases that other districts sent out are incomplete and vague. Yes,Austin gave numbers for their own students but didn’t compare to other districts or state. Hays only said their scores were “similar” to AISD and threw out a few “higher” “lower” areas of comparing to state data. .09% higher? 20% lower? Who knows.

    Respectfully, I feel like your article screams conspiracy where there is not one. The Hays press said that the SMCISD would release their data after July 18th board meeting… OR does Mr. Eades decision negate that?

  20. I saw a press release elsewhere, that said the scores are decent, compared to the state. There were some subjects where we are underperforming, but some subjects looked pretty solid. I’m curious to see the break down by grade level.

  21. Brad, I appreciate the fact that you try to present breaking news to keep us all abreast of the local happenings, and enjoy reading your articles in addition to reading my SM Daily Record.

    Just want to say that there are many people and businesses here in town who are actively trying to improve our schools, encourage our students, involve parents, and raise the perception of SMCISD’s reputation. Our school administrators have our students’ best interests at heart and work diligently towards those goals every day.

    I was told that the STAAR data needed to be presented to the School Board first before being released to the public. Sounds reasonable to me. Hinting that there is some conspiracy afoot to hide pertinent information doesn’t help anyone. In fact, it only feeds the minds of those who sit around and complain about our schools but aren’t involved in any way with efforts to make things better. Kind of like a non-voter who complains about government all the time.

    One of my favorite quotes is from John F. Kennedy: “A rising tide raises all boats.” I would hope that we would all want to part of a rising tide, not part of the wind seeking to blow a ship out to sea.

    Let’s be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Yes, we have problems in our schools, just like any school system. But please don’t feed the perception that all is lost when so many are giving their all to make things better.

  22. Thanks Mary Ann for an eloquent statement. We are all working very hard to overcome the problems facing the community and the last thing we need is yet another voice whispering “conspiracy”. There simply is no conspiracy; only people trying to do the right thing.

  23. Maybe we could incorporate drug testing into STAAR? And while we’re at it why don’t we test all the adults in our town and see how learned and clean they are…would we even want to see those results?

  24. Marianne,

    I accept the premise that San Marcos schools are improving by many measures. Most of the San Marcos schools coverage we do tells that story.

    I also accept that public education in the 21st century is dizzyingly complex and made more so by disengaged/busy parents, pressurized childhoods, and the politicization of curriculum and accountability. I absolutely respect the work of educators; I have not forgotten how the best of my public school teachers elevated and inspired this East Texas country kid.

    I do not accept that it’s reasonable to withhold public information from the public before it is presented to the board if that means waiting four to six weeks to release information that was being disseminated widely across the state. My contribution to improving San Marcos schools is making sure public information is available to the public in a timely manner.

    The article you commented on is nearing a month old at this point and I don’t want to use this opportunity to rehash criticism of the way the district handled this. I think everyone involved is looking forward to moving on.

    A wider range of STAAR results were given to the board on Monday and I am working on a third story that I think will be more comprehensive than the earlier two.

    You may have missed this one, the second: http://smmercury.com/2012/06/25/intial-staar-results-are-mixed-bag-for-san-marcos-cisd/

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