Leander ISD students beat state average for STAAR passage rate, District also urges state to put less emphasis on testing


STAAR LogoBy CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News

In spring of 2015, students in Leander ISD beat the state average for the number of students who passed the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test.

According to a recent demographer report, 82.98 percent of Leander I.S.D. students passed the STAAR test, compared to 71.83 percent statewide. That ranks Leander I.S.D. 11th among all large districts in the state with 20,000 or more students, and among the highest scoring of districts of all sizes in the Austin area.

Leander ISD school board trustee Pam Waggoner said she credits the district’s teachers and principals for the high number of students who passed the test.

“I would give credit to the teachers and principals of each of the schools,” Waggoner said. “They provide the right atmosphere for their students to learn in and they constantly assess areas the students need to improve in. This customizes their delivery of education to fit their students.”

While proud of the achievement, the LISD school board doesn’t want to put too much emphasis on standardized test scores.

At the June 2 LISD Board of Trustees meeting, the board unanimously passed a resolution calling on the state to modify the current high-stakes testing system to focus on campus and district performance results of core elements of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for each content areas, according to information on the district’s website.

The resolution urges the state to narrow the scope of the TEKS so that students can dig deeper into a specific content area to develop connections that will provide for higher-order thinking skills development and to allow school districts to have more local control of assessment.

The district collected 795 signatures in support of the resolution.

“We want to stand with parents and those who believe that testing should be meaningful and age-appropriate and not define a child by a grade,” Waggoner said. “Children come in all shapes and sizes and each has their own gifts. It is about allowing the child to blossom in their time. Leander ISD wants the state and parents to know we think students are more than a test.”

The board decided to pass a resolution after several administrators and board members met with parents who were concerned about assessments and high-stakes testing. As a result of those conversations, a proposed draft resolution was written, similar to those that have been passed in other school districts, outlining the district’s position, according to a district memo.

Waggoner said she believes the aspect of the testing system that most needs to be changed is that it needs to assess where a child is at in their learning.

“They need to be meaningful and age appropriate,” Waggoner said. “We are using testing for the wrong reasons. We are using them to grade a school district and possibly children who have special needs or test anxieties. Accountability is absolutely essential and welcomed; setting kids and districts up for failure is not.”

The resolution also states that “even though increasing numbers of parents demand the option to remove their students from STAAR testing assessments, there is currently no process in place for parents to trigger an opt-out if they have concerns or objections to the STAAR; and we believe this establishes an adversarial relationship with parents that is counterproductive to building a partnership with parents to maximize student learning.”

“Parents felt the tests were too long for their younger students and some questions and topics not age appropriate,” Waggoner said. “I believe some of that will work itself out as the new TEKS for the grade levels are understood.

“Our philosophy in Leander ISD is to focus on the whole child,” she said. “We believe sports, fine arts, academics and other studies are important.”