Tierrabyte: STAAR Results Show Performance Gap for At-Risk Kids

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Students cross Zarzamora Street on their way to school.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Students cross Zarzamora Street on their way to school.

Even though Bexar County students are showing gains in most of their preliminary State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) results from April, scores of at-risk students indicate they are not getting the help they need.

STAAR exams are administered every year in Texas public primary and secondary schools to assess students' mastery of subject matter and determine their likelihood of succeeding in the next grade level.

Across the board, Bexar County districts showed improvements in grade 5 math and reading exams, but results for students classified as at risk of dropping out of school lag behind those of their peers in almost all Bexar County school districts, testing data shows.

A student is categorized as being at risk if he or she is behind at least one grade level in school, has limited English proficiency, has been expelled, is on parole or probation, is in the custody or care of the Department of Family and Protective Services, is homeless, or has lived in a detention facility, emergency shelter, psychiatric ward, or foster group home. Students can also qualify based on poor academic performance.

On average, 32 percent fewer at-risk fifth graders in Bexar County school districts passed the math portion of the exam than did their peers, and 22 percent fewer passed the reading segment. The gap in performance between at-risk and not at-risk students varied from district to district, reaching nearly 50 percent for students in Southside ISD taking the grade 5 math exam.

The map below shows the difference in the percentage of "at-risk" and "not at-risk" students who passed the fifth-grade reading and math portions of this year's STAAR exams. Click on the checkboxes in the legend to view the performance gap for reading and math sections of the exam.

State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) said at-risk students are no longer a special population, and cannot be ignored by policymakers or educators.

"They are no longer a small fraction of a much larger student body," he said.

Bernal said it is important to look beyond the overall passing rate of a district at how individual groups of students perform. This disaggregated data, he said, tells more about where districts and educators should focus resources.

"The gaps exist even in districts and campuses that otherwise do well, and the disaggregated data tells us that we still have work to do," Bernal said. "You run the risk of allowing the overall success to mask the needs of certain students."

SAISD Deputy Superintendent Pauline Dow said educators must target their support through a process called tiered interventions to the specific and varied needs of students based on their individual challenges. 

"Once [teachers] have used all of their tools in the toolbox and they need other support, that triggers a tiered intervention," Dow said. "People who know the child then get around a table and create an intervention plan."

If a student doesn't pass the STAAR exam in April, he or she has additional testing opportunities in May and June to retake the exam. For this reason, results might fluctuate, although the pool of students retaking the exam becomes increasingly whittled into a smaller pool of students that have already had trouble passing, Texas Education Agency spokesperson Lauren Callahan said.

Districts with greater property wealth per student, like Alamo Heights, show smaller gaps in performance between at-risk students and their peers, suggesting that the resources available to those students might have improved their scores on the exam. However, the gap in performance for students passing the math exam, 22 percent, differs by 9 percent from the district-wide average performance gap of 32 percent, and just 4 percent for the reading exam, according to the released data.

Dow, who oversees a district with 75 percent of at-risk students, was surprised that the gap would persist in districts with smaller at-risk populations and more resources.

"We have way more at-risk students then [other districts] do," she said. "Maybe we’re doing a better job of supporting and differentiating for at-risk kids. This is a big deal for us. ... If I was in Alamo Heights I’d be asking myself, 'Why can’t we close this gap with at-risk kids when we can in other areas?'"

About 27 percent of Alamo heights students are classified as at risk.

Southside ISD students saw the largest gap in passing rates between at-risk and non at-risk students, with 48 percent fewer at-risk students passing the fifth-grade math segment of the exam, and 42 percent fewer passing the fifth-grade reading segment.

STAAR exam scores play a large role in the state's public school accountability system, which rates campuses and districts as either "improvement required" (IR) or "met standard" (MS). If a school receives a failing IR rating for five consecutive years after 2017-18, the TEA could order the campus to close.

Even though STAAR scores carry weight at the state level, Dow said SAISD teachers don't use STAAR results to determine interventions.

“[By the time they take the STAAR] it’s too late. If we’re doing a good job, we pretty much know before the exam which students are going to be able to show what they know on a summative assessment.”

13 thoughts on “Tierrabyte: STAAR Results Show Performance Gap for At-Risk Kids

  1. The definition of “At risk children” is poor parenting, absentee parenting. The definition of poor parenting, absentee parenting is Drugs, non existent moral values, and ….. know this will strike some nerves, forced entry into the US by way of birth and then being raised on welfare. The definition of drugs, non existent moral values. forced entry into the US by way of birth and being raised on welfare is poor parenting, absentee parenting. Hmmmm; vicious cycle. We need to not concentrate on where in the City the at risk children reside, but why this is. For starters, what are the statistics on how many “at risk children” are the result of forced entry into the US by way of birth and then raised on welfare.

    • Thank you for the food for thought, Emily and Emily.

      Ann, your argument focuses waaay too much on illegal immigration and purported “welfare usage”, which doesn’t account for the economic and educational / training attributes of legally-residing parents, and why they might be “poor” and “absentee”.

      And if “ann” is a bot or a troll, RivardReport, then please consider commentary only from donating human members with verified or even registered email accounts (should that include legal first and last names, not necessarily displayed here? … gettin’ tired of voices not invested in our city, mucking up the airwaves and lighting fires just to watch stuff burn ….)

      • Cant take the heat or comprehend direct, non politically motivated opinion that doesnt agree with your liberal politically motivated view, eh, Jonathon? (i.e. your views on NRC bid for SA). This is what we call democracy here in the greatest country on earth – freedom of speech and the reason we have public vote! How would Rivard continue his Report if we only had your one sided opinion? Btw, act like an adult and try to refrain from name calling!

        • I’m a teacher. Most of my at-risk students are white, not immigrants or even the great-grandchildren of immigrants. But one thing in the original comment was right. But one correct thing said in the original comment was that at-risk students do seem to have less parental involvement. There are plenty of parents of all backgrounds who get lazy and would rather let an iPad, smart phone or gaming system (most illegals can’t afford these things) raise their child rather than force responsibility on their kids.

    • Ann, curious whether you know any actual at-risk children and their families. Having taught for many years in SAISD, my experience does not match with your stereotype. Parents of my at-risk students included parents who worked two or three jobs to make ends meet, parents who regularly asked my advice on additional ways to support their child”s education, etc. And many of my most involved parents were my parents who had recently come to the US. They respected “la maestra” and saw education as vital for their child(ren). What is your definition of “bad parenting?”

  2. That may be your experience with the children of people who came to this country illegally and their parents but not mine, Ann. In my experience their parents came here to provide better opportunities for their children and because of that, they value education. Those I know are contributing members to society and proud Americans.

    Even Anglo children whose ancestors on both sides were here by the early 1700s like mine can qualify for the “at risk” label. I did. And no, neither of my parents did drugs, had alcohol problems or were on welfare. I was, however, raised primarily by a single mom after my parents were divorced, who worked hard but whose paychecks were small. But both parents did the best they could on limited resources to make sure I was able to grow up to be a successful adult, just like the parents of my first-generation American friends did.

    • My point – one of the definitions of bad parenting, ABSENTEE parenting. Btw, you are a minority in the staistics, glad you are a healthy and successful adult. Use yur lesson to teach others they too can overcome and that means start with the parents, not the at risk children

  3. It is easy to pass blame Ann, but the truth is much more real when a student enters an elementary behind the curve we the school districts must do what we can to solve the problem in some districts lack of funding adds to this problem, the examples sited in this commentary showed that even affluent districts still have a problem closing the gap, instead of laying blame why don’t you get out of your shell and help do something about it. Get your hands dirty and work to solve the problem!

  4. Standardized testing is a racially and culturally biased joke. Texas has some of the worst public schools in the world,…..on par with schools in the third world. The literacy rate in CUBA is 99.8 percent,…..while the rate in the US is so low that they will not even publish it.

  5. Just reading some of these awful comments, I am struck as to how backward and hillbilly-esque most Texans are about the wider world,……and especially about education. Texas is stuck somewhere back in the post-reconstruction nineteenth century,….and that is on a good day.

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