Many of the ads are about immediate, if improbable, fixes for those in financial straits.
They’re just digging a hole, the ads say.
But some 575 students at A.C. Jones High School now are discovering that proper management of their grades is just as important as managing their finances.
That’s because the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) mark a significant change in the way students are tested.
Under the previous TAKS system, ninth- and 10th-grade students who took the tests did not worry about their scores, because tests administered to those grades didn’t count.
However, under the STARR system, every student must take end-of-course (EOC) tests in math, social science, science and English in order to pass.
Instead of taking only four tests under the TAKS system, students now are expected to take — and pass — 12 tests in those four disciplines.
In order to be graduated, students must pass their courses but also pass the STAAR test. Over three years, that entails passing tests in Algebra 1, geometry, Algebra 2, biology, chemistry, physics, English 1, 2 and 3, (reading and writing), world geography, world history and U.S. history.
Students who do not make a passing score must take the test again.
“They are more rigorous; they require a higher level of thinking, and they are scored higher,” says Kelly Billington, the counselor/at risk coach at the high school.
Billington has started a campaign to get students to realize the importance of the new testing system. At last month’s regular meeting of the Beeville Independent School District’s board, she told trustees her “EOC Talks” presentation is designed to raise their awareness.
During her PowerPoint presentation to the board, Billington invented a hypothetical sophomore named “Molly” to illustrate what easily could happen to a member of the class of 2015.
Some criteria: A passing English score is 1,875; passing math score is 3,500.
Here are Molly’s freshman scores as she starts her sophomore year:
Writing — 1,800
Reading — 1,875
Algebra 1 — 3,400
World geography — 3,500
Biology — 3,500
Molly is already behind in writing and Algebra 1. She has to take the EOC exams for writing and Algebra 1 over again.
In addition, at the end of the year, she will have tests for writing and reading, geometry, world history and chemistry.
In subsequent screens, Molly continues to lag further behind until, by the time she is a senior, she easily could find she is expected to take 22 tests, attend numerous courses over again in addition to her senior classes in order to be graduated.
“No student can be expected to do that,” Billington explains. “There simply isn’t enough time.”
The moral of her presentation — which she told the board has a number of students scared — is that students absolutely must pass their EOC tests the first time.
To add to the gravity of the situation, EOC scores now count for 15 percent of the course’s final grade.
“So, the chances are,” Billington tells the students, “if you don’t pass the EOC exam, you won’t pass the class, which means you not only have retake the test, you have to retake the class, too.”
Billington remembers advice from her father: “You tackle big problems like you eat an elephant — one spoonful at a time.”
Cognizant of the STAAR challenge, teachers have formulated a number of steps to assist the students in adjusting to the new testing system.
“We have the ‘EOC Talks’ presentation,” Billington explains. “We also have organized special tutorials, especially for math and science, and we have cram sessions.”
Ironically, that the Texas Education Agency deemed A.C. Jones last year as academically unacceptable has helped Billington’s efforts to keep students up to speed.
“When you get that TEA rating, the district has to generate massive amounts of information. We have a spreadsheet on each student. That allows us to pinpoint problems early. We can target which student is struggling in which course.”
What the spreadsheet cannot do is solve the problems of truancy and the indifference of parents.
Billington is planning meetings with parents to show her EOC PowerPoint. But getting them to show up is another problem.
“If a kid is here,” she says, “we can make things a whole lot better. But not everything we put in a kid’s backpack to take home gets to the parents.”
Billington warns students not to place false hopes in the controversy that last year’s introduction of the STAAR tests has caused statewide.
“This isn’t going to go away,” she says. “This is the new standard.
“But, it’s not insurmountable. I just want the students to understand that this is serious and to be dedicated enough to do whatever it takes to pass the tests.
“We are determined not to have any ‘Mollies.’”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.