Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Texas Students Switch to STAAR Testing

by Morgan Smith and Thanh Tan | Texas Tribune

Day 8: Armed with fewer resources, teachers prepare students for rigorous new STAAR test.

In the fall, educators will begin to prepare students for a new series of test known as STAAR, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. STAAR will replace TAKS, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Lawmakers passed the mandate to begin STAAR testing back in 2009. They will finally be implemented during the next school year despite a $4 billion cut to public education.

KUT News' Kelsey Sheridan recently filed a report on how educators are feeling anxious about the rollout. Listen to her story.

With STAAR, high school students will have to perform better on harder tests and take more of them. Under the current system, standardized tests do not count toward final grades, and students must pass four exit-level exams to graduate. Now, for the first time, students will have to achieve a cumulative score across 12 end-of-course exams to graduate. And their scores on the exams will count toward 15 percent of their final grade, with the option to retake the exam three times if they do not pass. (They are required to retake it if they do not achieve a certain minimum score.) Educators say that could result in more days spent testing students; they also worry that it could have students playing a game of risk with their scores — opting not to retake one test with the hope of scoring higher on a future one.

Districts are approaching the new test in different ways. Predicting reduced state aid, some have already eliminated many non-classroom positions for the coming school year. That means remaining employees will have far more responsibilities, a particular concern for school counselors, who have long worked to define their role as separate from that of testing coordinators.

Other districts, including Round Rock Independent School District, were able to re-hire teachers after anticipated cuts didn't pan out. Lora Darden, RRISD's director of curriculum and professional development, said teachers are undergoing training and should have "ample" time to prepare students for STAAR.

"In terms of curriculum it’s just a greater emphasis on rigor," Darden told the Tribune, adding that teachers are transitioning from TAKS to STAAR within a short period. "You have to live under the reality you’re in until you switch to the new system, so teachers will work really hard."

Darden says she views STAAR as a positive change because "people will have an opportunity to re-examine their practices, to refocus their teaching efforts, to pay close attention to the standard that Texas has set before us. We’ve had so much renewed interest, so I think in a sense it’s a fresh beginning."

Watch an overview of how the testing works in this video by Region XIII Education Service Center.

Resources for teachers and parents:

Texas Education Agency's STAAR resource page

Region XIII Education Service Center's STAAR resource page

Morgan Smith and Kelsey Sheridan contributed to this article.

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