Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Texas' new standardized STAAR tests will be tougher, longer

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
Thursday, December 2, 2010

AUSTIN – Texas students will have to answer more questions – and spend more time in class answering them – when the state's new student testing program is rolled out for the 2011-12 school year.

A preview of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, sent to school districts Wednesday also indicated that college and career readiness rather than minimum skills will be the focus for older students.

Students will have less opportunity to guess at multiple choice questions as more open-ended items appear on tests – particularly in math and science – requiring students to come up with original answers.

STAAR will replace the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills for students in grades three through 11. State education officials predicted that the test will "again raise the bar for Texas education."

"STAAR will represent a more unified, comprehensive assessment program that will incorporate more rigorous college and career readiness standards," a report from the Texas Education Agency states.

Among the key changes discussed in the report are:

•Assessments in most grades and subjects will be longer, and overall test difficulty will be increased by including more rigorous items.

•The rigor of items will be increased by measuring skills at a greater depth and level of complexity. That will help better evaluate the academic growth of higher-achieving students.

•Performance standards will be set so that they require a higher level of student competency than is now required on the TAKS.

•To make sure the tests are rigorous enough, student performance on STAAR will be compared with results on standardized national and international assessments.

The new testing program has a goal of putting Texas among the top 10 states for graduating college-ready students by the end of the decade.

All students in grades three through eight will be tested in reading and math, with students in specific grades also tested in science, social studies and writing.

In high school, students will take 12 end-of-course exams – three each in English, math, science and social studies. A student will have to earn a passing average in each subject area to receive a diploma. The STAAR end-of-course exams will be phased in with ninth-graders in the 2011-12 school year.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the education agency, said elementary and middle school students are now tested on only one subject per day each year. For example, a fourth-grader – being tested in math, reading and writing – takes three days of exams.

That will not increase under the STAAR test, but students will have more questions and those will be more difficult, causing students to spend more time finishing it. That means instead of most students finishing up by noon or shortly after, students will probably be working until early afternoon.

The tests will not be timed.

"Each successive testing program in Texas has gotten more challenging for students, and that's what will happen with the next generation of tests," Ratcliffe said.

High school students will take their end-of-course tests as they complete each subject, with the test counting as 15 percent of the final grade in the course.

Results from the STAAR will be used to calculate annual school and district performance ratings beginning in the summer of 2013.

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