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DALLAS (AP) - Texas high school students showed improvements on end-of-course standardized tests in biology and algebra, and posted strong passing rates on a history exam administered statewide for the first time but lagged in English, figures released Wednesday by the state education agency show.

The results for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, also revealed that if the final standards for the exams were already in place, the passing rates in all subjects would only be about half.

If the passing standards were fully phased in, we would not have strong results, said Debbie Ratcliffe, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman. We have a lot of work to do to get the students and schools ready before the final passing standards go into effect.

In order to get a high school diploma, students are required to pass five end-of course exams: Algebra I, English I, English II, Biology and U.S. History. In preliminary statewide results for first-time testers, students had a 93 percent passing rate in biology, up 6 percent from last year. Algebra scores improved by 4 percent from last year to an 86 percent passing rate. The history exam had a 92 percent passing rate.

This was the first year that the reading and writing tests were combined for the English language arts tests. Seventy-two percent of students passed the English I exam while 73 percent passed the English II test.

The English language arts test continues to be the hardest for students. Many are still struggling with writing, Ratcliffe said.

She said the original schedule called for the passing standards to be fully phased in by 2016, but that could be delayed.

If the passing standards were already in place, the passing rate for algebra I would only be 44 percent, while the passing rates for other subjects would be: 50 percent for English I, 51 percent for English II, 51 percent for history and 54 percent for biology.

The agency's release last week of standardized test scores for students in grades three through eight showed mostly stagnant test scores.

Ratcliffe said that the situation looks better at the high school level than in those lower grades. The results are stronger. We're seeing more gains on the tests where we can compare to previous years, she said.

Clay Robison, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, said there is too much of an emphasis on high-stakes, stressful standardized tests.

Tests are important but they're primarily important to educators as benchmarks, he said. They should not have so much stress and so much stigma attached to them.

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