New Study Reaffirms That STAAR Reading Tests Are Not on Grade Level

Eight different readability formulas showed the test’s reading portions are at a higher level of difficulty than appropriate for the grades they’re assessing.

Gabrian McDaniel picks out a book at a book fair at Dixie Elementary School in Tyler, Texas on Sept. 19, 2017.

Chelsea Purgahn/Tyler Morning Telegraph/AP

Opponents of the STAAR test have new evidence that the reading portion of the standardized exam given to all Texas schoolchildren remains flawed.

Professors Susan Szabo and Becky Barton Sinclair, both of Texas A&M University-Commerce, have just published a new report, “Readability of the STAAR Test is Still Misaligned,” in Schooling. The report reaffirms what the two found in their similar 2012 study: that, for the most part, reading tests given to students in grades 3–8 are at a level of difficulty at least one year above grade level.

Szabo and Sinclair used eight different readability formulas to examine the reading portion of the STAAR, as opposed to the five they used in 2012. A careful reading of the paper shows what could be interpreted as an astounding lack of consistency: some test passages were written below grade level, while others were written far above grade level. For instance, all five passages on the fourth-grade test were “misaligned,” with one passage below grade level and four above. In sixth grade, one passage was written at the appropriate grade level, three were above, and one was below.

Maybe the strangest thing about the professors’ findings—in 2012 and today—is that the only reading tests at or below grade level are those in eighth grade, when students are trying to move into high school and might not advance if they don’t pass the test after three tries. State Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, worries that this could foster a situation in which high school students will struggle with reading at grade level.

“This study is of grave concern and further reiterates the need for a thorough, independent audit of the STAAR Test,” said Powell, who earlier this month filed legislation calling for just such an audit. “Many of my colleagues and I are committed to ensuring we no longer fail our students and hinder their futures.”

Szabo and Sinclair’s new paper could cause additional legislative migraines for the Texas Education Agency and its commissioner, Mike Morath, who has stuck to his guns in the face of mounting evidence that the STAAR doesn’t measure what it’s supposed to, and, in turn, is hurting Texas children, teachers, schools, and even the economics of neighborhoods.

This article has been updated to reflect that the study referred to reading passages rather than reading questions. 

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