Students and teachers prepare for round two of STAAR

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

State, district and campus results from the spring 2012 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) are posted online by Pearson Education, which developed the test.

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State, district and campus results from the spring 2012 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) are posted online by Pearson Education, which developed the test.

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FORT WORTH -- Sixth graders at Parkwood Hill Intermediate School have been studying poems with a critical eye as they get ready for the state standardized reading test next month.

April will mark the second time students will be tested with the more rigorous State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) system launched in 2011-2012.

Poetry will count for 30 percent of the reading test, said Glenda Kemmerling-Wilson, a language arts teacher at the Keller school district campus. So her students are studying a poem's title, looking at how stanzas are put together and studying graphics to determine what the author is trying to convey.

"The (2012) test gave me a new direction of how to plan and how to prepare my students to read critically. For the STAAR, it's all high-level critical thinking skills and analysis," she said. "We were able to analyze those scores and pinpoint where our overall weaknesses are so we can target those specific skills."

Teachers say they are better equipped to prepare students to succeed this time around. And administrators in districts across North Texas have been studying scores from the spring 2012 test, released in February, and continue to work with curriculum coordinators and teachers to identify areas that need improvement. On Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency announced that the questions used for the 2013 test will be released this summer, a year earlier than planned, to help educators in their preparations for future tests.

Required standards remain unchanged

Under STAAR, children in third through eighth grades take tests in the same core subjects measured by the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) program, which is being phased out.

Students in grades 3 through 8 are tested in math and reading. Writing is added in grades 4 and 7. Science is added in fifth grade and social studies in eighth grade.

Students in kindergarten through second grade are not tested.

The required standards to pass the spring 2013 test will remain the same. But under a four-year, two-step phase-in process, standards will become more rigorous for the 2014 and 2015 tests, and the final, most difficult standard is scheduled to be put in place in 2016.

The STAAR test is different than TAKS in some areas. There are more open-ended questions that require students to provide the correct answer rather than selecting one from a list of possible options. And unlike the TAKS, the STAAR tests are timed. Results from the first 2012 STAAR weren't used for district and campus accountability ratings because none were in place while the new system was being developed. The tests are scored on three performance categories. Level I is unsatisfactory academic performance, meaning the student did not pass the test and is not adequately prepared for the next grade or course. Level II is satisfactory academic performance, which means the student passed the test and is sufficiently prepared to move on or "pass," and Level III is advanced performance.

A requirement that fifth- and eighth-grade-students pass the reading and math test before moving to the next grade level was suspended for the 2012 tests because standards were not in place before the test. The requirement to pass will be implemented for the spring 2013 STAAR. Students who don't pass reading and math the first time will have two additional chances to take and pass the tests. If the student is unsuccessful after three attempts, a parent meeting will be called to determine how to proceed, said DeEtta Culbertson, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman.

In high school, sophomores will join freshmen in taking end-of-course exams similar to finals for key courses, such as English and algebra. Legislation is pending to determine whether to pare down the number of those tests. And for the second year, the state has suspended a requirement that the end-of-course exams will count as 15 percent of a student's course grade.

School boards have been lobbying during the current legislative session for reform in testing and accountability standards.

"There's a lot of bills that are looking at reducing the number of tests," said Arlington school trustee Tony Pompa. "The strongest voice not to change is coming from the testing company. Imagine that! If the end result is supposed to be increasing the number of students who are graduating, that's not helping."

Fort Worth students lag behind state average

The majority of Texas students passed the spring 2012 tests. Passing rates in most subject areas were 70 percent or higher with the exception of third and fourth graders who posted passing rates of 68 percent on the math test.

Students across the state scored poorly on the eighth-grade social studies test, posting a passing rate of 59 percent. State officials attributed the low marks to new curriculum implemented in 2011-2012 and test questions that were not drawn from textbooks.

Locally, Fort Worth school students lagged behind their peers on all tests, according to data released by Pearson Education, the state's testing contractor. Passing rates were in the 50s and 60s on nearly all tests, with the exception of fifth-grade math students who posted a passing rate of 72 percent. The passing rate was 48 percent on the social studies test.

Michael Sorum, Fort Worth schools deputy superintendent for leadership, learning and student support services, said administrators are pleased that the district's results are similar to other urban school districts. He noted that middle school math scores were "relatively strong."

"Of course, we will never be happy until every child reaches standard, however, we now know what our goals are and we will continue to strive to reach them," he said. "Of course, we didn't wait for results to come in. We have worked proactively for the last few years since we received the STAAR blueprints. We are well positioned to continue improving and our teachers and principals are working hard to do so."Cynthia Wortham, who has daughters in sixth and eighth grades at Fort Worth's Young Women's Leadership Academy, said she wasn't sure what to expect on the first STAAR test but that the girls did "relatively well," performing above average on some portions.

"It gave me a good guideline to find out where they were. It's another tool for them to use," she said. "I do think it is a baseline for where your skills are, where your strengths are and what you need to work on."

In Arlington schools, third through eighth grade scores were mostly in the 60s and 70s. Eighth graders scored 80 percent in reading and 75 percent in math, but only 61percent in social studies.

Wallace Carter, Arlington schools director of accountability and testing, said the school district is approaching STAAR preparation this year by using a multi-faceted approach that includes group learning experiences and data-driven targeting of specific weaknesses.

"The scores were just about what we expected from an accountability and research perspective," Carter said. "We trust that this broad-based approach will help with our overall improvement."

In Birdville schools, most scores were in the 60s and 70s. Fifth graders scored an 80 percent on the reading test, sixth graders scored 81 percent on math, seventh graders scored 81 percent on reading and eighth graders scored 83 percent on reading.

In Keller schools, most scores were in the 80 percent passing range, with sixth graders scoring 90 percent on the reading test and 91 on the math test. Seventh graders got a 91 percent on the reading test and eighth graders scored a 93 on the reading test.

In Southlake-based Carroll schools, students had 90 percent passing rates on all tests, exceeding the state scores by a wide margin.

Students in Grapevine -Colleyville schools scored mostly in the 80 to 89 percent passing range, with fourth graders scoring a 92 in reading. Sixth graders and eighth graders also did well in reading, posting a 90 and 91 respectively.

If the scores from the 2012 tests were held to the higher standard for passing that will be in place by 2016, only 39 percent of third graders statewide would have passed the reading test, 32 percent of fourth graders would have passed the math test and 34 percent of fifth graders would have passed the science test.

Locally, only 18 percent of Fort Worth students and 37 percent of Arlington students would have passed the eighth-grade math test under the tougher standard.

"The state builds in a phase in period for teachers and districts to become familiar with the new and higher expectations of STAAR," Sorum said.

This article contains information from the Star-Telegram archives.

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326

Twitter: @jessamybrown

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @shirljinkins

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