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Lawmakers Back Delay Of STAAR Grade Requirements

AUSTIN (AP) - The head of the Texas Senate Education Committee said Tuesday she supports postponing for a year requirements that new state standardized tests count toward 15 percent of high school students' grades so as to calm the fears of nervous kids and parents.

"I'm hoping that that's what's going to happen, because I realize there's a tremendous amount of angst out there," Sen. Florence Shapiro, a Plano Republican, said of a year's delay in making the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, exam's results impact grades.

Shapiro said a reprieve would give school officials more time to fully implement the exam and weigh its impact.

"There's a special fear reserved for the unknown," Shapiro said in an interview. "A year from now, this process won't be unknown anymore."

Her comments came a day after she and three other Senate Education Committee members sent a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott clarifying that the legislation that created STAAR gives him the authority to delay regulations that its results determine 15 percent of students' grades.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokesman for the Texas Education Agency, said Scott had received the letter but was waiting for additional guidance from the Texas House before responding.

Scott said recently, however, that Texas schools' over-emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing is a "perversion" of the exams' intent. Shapiro said she believes he will agree to waive the 15 percent of grades rule until the 2012-2013 school year.

The requirement was designed to ensure students take the test seriously. But it has angered some young people, parents and school administrators, who say doing poorly on the STAAR exam could hurt grades and make Texas students less attractive to university admissions boards.

The new testing system replaces the much-maligned Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test beginning this school year.

It includes tests for grades three to eight. Then in high school, 12 tests will be given at the end of courses in Algebra I and II, geometry, biology, chemistry, physics, English I, II and III, world geography, world history, and U.S. history -- with their results counting toward final grades.

Adding to critics' concerns is the fact that some school districts have already decided that while high school STAAR tests will affect grades, they won't change students' existing grade point averages or class ranks. Those can instead be calculated without STAAR scores. Others have withheld GPAs, however, until the test results are in at the end of the year.

STAAR will also be used to help authorities evaluate the quality of instruction in schools, but Shapiro said districts have already been given a year's delay from consequences of the test results as they implement the new testing system.

"If we've given it to school districts, we should give it to students," she said.

Shapiro has been a staunch defender of the new test and said she is not backing away from that position.

"This is a fairness issue," she said, "It's not about retreating."

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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