Texas looks to the STAARs for new standardized test

Monday, January 23, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Testing reminders and graduation requirement posters will be un-TAKed from walls all over campus over the next three years as the school begins to look to the STAARs for a new standardized testing requirement.

Effective for the Class of 2015, students will be tested using the STAAR, a system of end-of-course exams for students’ core classes, instead of the previously administered TAKS exam.

“Based upon the release questions that we’ve received, it appears that the difficulty has definitely been ratcheted up from what the TAKS test looked like,” Dean of Instruction Donna Willett said. “[The state test] used to be just a minimum-skills test, but then students weren’t college ready. Each time they’ve adjusted the test, they’ve increased the rigor to ensure that the instruction in the school is where it needs to be.”

STAAR, or the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, tests high-school students for mastery in each of their English, Mathematics, Social Studies, and Science classes at the end of each year.

“With STAAR the big difference for high school is that the test is strictly content related,” Willett said. “For example, the 10th grade [science] test has included biology, some chemistry and some physics. So, when it became time for the test, the biology teachers had to stop teaching their content and they had to teach other skills that the students needed for the test. While the STAAR biology test that the students will take is strictly about biology.”

Unlike TAKS, the STAAR exams will be taken at the end of the year and a student’s exam grade will count for 15% of their grade for the course itself, replacing the student’s final exam.

Just as the STAAR will replace a student’s spring final exam, credits for the four core classes will be awarded based on the entire year, not individual semesters. Thus, fall finals will also be forgone for students taking the STAAR.

“We won’t know grades on this test until after school lets out,” Willett said. “So, report card dates would be moved back, the awarding of credit would move back and determining if a student earned enough credits to move from ninth to tenth grade would move back because of having to include that grade from the test in the grade calculation.”

Because of the new method of grading, the graduation requirements for students have also changed as now students will be required to achieve a given score on all of their exams to graduate from any school in Texas.

“It used to be that if a student failed in 9th grade, they just failed the test and moved on. It was only the 11th grade test that you had to re-take to graduate,” Willett said. “Now, the state is setting a floor on every test. So, if you don’t meet that base level score, you have to retake the test. It’s not just that the exit-level is important. Every test is important because unless they meet the minimum score, they wouldn’t meet the graduation requirements.”

As the current ninth grade students will be required to take the STAAR exams this year, teachers have already begun preparing for the shift in testing.

“We have sent a number of teachers to training specifically for this test,” Willett said. “We are basically re-writing curriculum as we go. A lot of the teachers that teach the 10th grade courses, are being sent to training now. They’ve been working already so they have a little bit of an advantage to see what the 9th grade teachers have gone through and they’re already working at this point to make changes to their curriculum for next year.”

In this transition to the new STAAR exams, teachers have also adjusted classroom expectations in response to the new testing standards.

“STAAR is more rigorous and the expectations are much higher,” Principal Diana Werner said. “Students have said ‘my work is much harder this year’ because the teachers are trying to get them ready for that rigor that they’re going to face.”

With the first STAAR/EOC exams beginning a few weeks after the TAKS exams this spring, most ninth-graders will be taking the majority of their STAAR exams in May.

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