El Paso, TX (KDBC) — STAAR testing begins next week in El Paso. Once it's over, some eighth grade students in El Paso could have to start preparing for a second standardized math test.
New graduation standards set by the Texas Legislature in 2013 created a conflict with federal education requirements.
Federal law requires every student to take a math and reading test every year from third grade to eighth grade. As of last year, those eighth graders who are enrolled in Algebra 1 are also required to take an end of course exam.
Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams filed a waiver with the U.S. Department of Education looking for exemptions, but it was denied. Williams is still "discouraging" double-testing, but is ultimately leaving the decision up to local school districts.
School districts in Texas now have two choices. The first option is to ignore the federal law, and face penalties, or their second option is to test 8th graders twice.
The STAAR Algebra I end-of-course assessment would meet the state requirement, and the STAAR mathematics 8th grade assessment would meet federal accountability standards.
Students usually take the Algebra 1 exam in ninth grade, but nearly 25-percent of 8th graders are taking the course in Texas
Federal law requires students to take at least one standardized math test in high school. Currently, it is the Algebra 1 test. If students take that test in 8th grade, before high school, they are failing to meet that federal requirement.
"They're going to have already taken their Algebra 1 test, so for the next 4 years, they won't have a test to take, and that's what the Commissioner is saying. By federal law, they need to take a test. And so we'll be looking over the next 3 years to see how Texas will solve the problem, unless the federal law changes, of course," said James Steinhuaser, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction and Accountability at EPISD.
El Paso and Ysleta ISDs will not double test, and will instead use the results of the Algebra 1 test.
However, in Socorro ISD, 8th graders who take Algebra 1 are also still required to take 8th grade math, therefore they will be required to take both tests.
"If we had to take both, I think it would put more stress on us because we're already taking four tests this year," said Keira Thomas, an 8th grader enrolled in Algebra 1 at Eastwood Middle School in YISD.
"The Algebra is definitely more rigorous than 8th grade math because it's preparing us for everything else and it's the base for everything," said 8th grader Ethan Ramos, also from Eastwood Middle School.
Their teacher, Aracely Vargas, agrees that the Algebra 1 exam is more effective.
"We want to get them (students) ready for Algebra 2 or Geometry when they get into high school, so the best way to go was to not test them for 8th grade math, and just to focus on the algebra end of course exam," she said.