A Sustainable Approach to High School Accountability in Texas

School accountability is a persistent hot topic in education — and for good reason. Effective accountability systems can help schools optimize curricula and pedagogy, distribute resources effectively, and communicate clearly with families and other stakeholders. They’re also mandated by law. The No Child Left Behind Act and its successor, the Every Student Succeeds Act, have required states to develop assessment systems to receive federal funding.

The primary accountability mechanism for high schools in Texas is the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), a series of standardized tests delivered in grades 3-8 and in high school. Another key indicator is the school or district’s performance on College, Career, and Military Readiness (CCMR) metrics, which are meant to measure students’ preparation for life after high school.

Since STAAR results and CCMR metrics are used to rate Independent School District (ISD) and school performance, the stakes are high — but no single assessment is perfect, and focusing too heavily on testing can detract from teaching quality. To attain high STAAR results and CCMR ratings without sacrificing other curricular objectives, teachers and administrators must fit test-specific planning and preparation within a well-rounded educational approach.

STAAR in High Schools

High school students in Texas take five end-of-course STAAR exams: Algebra I, English I, English II, U.S. History, and Biology. Each assessment aligns with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the state’s key curricular objectives.

Students receive one of four possible scores in each subject:

  • Did Not Meet Grade Level
  • Approaches Grade Level
  • Meets Grade Level
  • Masters Grade Level

A score of “meets grade level” indicates that the student is well-prepared for success in the next grade, while “masters grade level” indicates that they are on track for post-secondary study. To graduate from high school, Texas students must score at least “approaches grade level” on each of the five exams. Alternately, they can submit equivalent scores from other standardized exams, including the ACT and related tests, SAT and related tests, AP exams, IB exams, and the Texas Success Initiative Assessment (TSIA and TSIA2).

STAAR Scoring and School Accountability

Every year, all Texas schools and districts with enrolled students are assigned state accountability ratings, which are publicly available. These ratings, which are heavily based on STAAR results, measure performance across three domains:

  • Student Achievement: Based on performance across all subjects on general and alternative assessments; College, Career, and Military Readiness (CCMR) indicators; and graduation rates. In 2023, scaled STAAR scores make up 40% of the overall Student Achievement score, CCMR indicators made up 40%, and graduation rates were the remaining 20%.
  • School Progress: Based on the number of students that grow at least one year academically as measured by STAAR results and the school or district’s performance relative to districts or schools with similar student demographics.
  • Closing the Gaps: Uses disaggregated testing data to demonstrate performance differences among students by racial/ethnic group, socioeconomic background, and other factors.

Schools receive a rating of A, B, C, D, or F for each domain, as well as an overall rating. The STAAR scores needed for a school to receive high ratings are tied to the percentage of economically disadvantaged students within the school using an annually-updated formula. Districts also receive scores based on the aggregated performance of member schools. High-performing districts can get designations recognizing excellence in a specific domain. Consistently low-performing districts, on the other hand, risk consequences including potential takeover by the Texas Education Agency.

Current State of STAAR Scores in Texas

Increasing STAAR scores has proven a persistent challenge for Texas schools and districts. While students are recovering from their lows at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, scores remain below pre-pandemic levels in some areas and show that many students continue to lag behind core subject areas.

In 2023, 54% of Texas high school students scored “meets grade level” or higher in English I, 45% scored “meets” or higher in Algebra I, and 57% scored “meets” or higher in Biology. These averages are further depressed among economically disadvantaged students.

Meanwhile, many students and teachers report that the emphasis on STAAR creates unnecessary pressure in schools — and 81% of teachers in a recent poll agreed that preparing for STAAR makes it harder to teach effectively.

Incentives for Increasing STAAR Scores

In 2019, the Texas legislature passed House Bill 3, which includes a Teacher Incentive Allotment program designed to reward teachers whose students demonstrate consistent growth. To participate in the program, districts create teacher designation systems using compliant metrics, one of which is STAAR scores. Teachers whose students measurably improve can be named Master, Exemplary, or Recognized teachers, depending on the degree to which their outcomes improve. These designations come with significant financial incentives:

  • Recognized teachers: $3,000 to $9,000 per teacher
  • Exemplary teachers: $6,000 to $18,000 per teacher
  • Master teachers: $12,000 to $32,000 per teacher

Additional funding is awarded to teachers whose work in rural schools or schools with high levels of socio-economic need.

While the funding is awarded to districts, not directly to teachers, the districts are required to use at least 90% of the funds for teacher compensation at the school where the teacher works.

CCMR Ratings and School Accountability

In addition to STAAR scores, a school’s College, Career, and Military Readiness (CCMR) metrics play a significant role in its accountability ratings. To be considered “CCMR-met,” students must reach at least one of the following indicators:

  • A score of 3 on AP examinations or 4 on IB examination
  • Specified SAT, ACT, TSI-A, or College Prep scores in English and math
  • Dual credit course completion
  • Associate degree completion (the same year as high school graduation)
  • OnRamps course completion
  • Level I or Level II certification
  • Industry-based certification (IBC)
  • CTE study program completion
  • IEP completion and workforce readiness
  • S. Armed Forces enlistment

A school’s CCMR score is calculated by dividing the number of students who meet CCMR criteria by the total number of enrolled students — but this score is just one factor in each of the Texas accountability domains.

Incentives for Increasing CCMR Scores

House Bill 3 also includes the College, Career, and Military Readiness (CCMR) Outcomes Bonus, a significant financial incentive for schools to increase the number of students who meet this standard.

For each student who exceeds the threshold performance set for their group (different standards apply to economically disadvantaged, non-economically disadvantaged, and special education students), schools receive a bonus payment ($5,000 for economically disadvantaged students, $3,000 for non-economically disadvantaged students, and an additional $2,000 for special education students).

These funds can be used for teacher training and professional development, counseling and advising services, expenses like supplies, equipment, tutors, and more. HB3 also requires that 55% of funds must be spent on students in grades 8–12 and for activities related to college, career, or military readiness). This bonus structure allows schools to continually reinvest in increasing CCMR and STAAR outcomes.

Solutions for Improving School Accountability Ratings

The need to improve student outcomes and school accountability ratings in Texas is clear, but administrators and educators face significant obstacles in getting there. For many teachers, fitting in STAAR prep is a challenge, particularly when their classes include students at different ability levels and with varying support needs.

Understanding test-taking strategy is essential to score highly, but it’s even more important to ensure students master tested material. Recent changes to STAAR design have forced many teachers to recreate their existing materials, creating an additional burden.

That’s why MasteryPrep offers equitable, mastery-based learning systems for school districts to improve student performance on STAAR and CCMR-qualifying assessments and raise their accountability ratings. With comprehensive curriculums, ready-to-use lesson plans and teacher guides, as well as on-demand digital test prep tools, MasteryPrep solutions relieve the burden on schools districts and allow students to not only master test material, but also gain familiarity with question formats and delivery.

In 2022, 88.9% of districts that used MasteryPrep for STAAR end-of-course exams increased their scores. MasteryPrep’s tools for CCMR-qualifying assessments deliver similar results — a four-week SAT SnapCourse, for example, can raise scores as much as 200 points. The end result? Less stress for educators, better outcomes for students, and higher accountability scores.

Learn more about MasteryPrep for STAAR

Learn more about MasteryPrep’s CCMR solutions

About MasteryPrep:

MasteryPrep provides mastery-based college readiness services and resources for the SAT®, ACT®, TSIA2, EOC, and WorkKeys®. MasteryPrep is the nationally preferred SAT and ACT prep provider of the Council for Opportunity in Education and licensed by ACT to include official ACT test questions in its programs. MasteryPrep partners with schools and districts to help level the standardized assessment playing field. MasteryPrep has ranked among the Inc. 5000 “Fastest Growing Companies” for six years and is a featured “Entrepreneur 360” company.


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