Schools to Shift Focus in Testing
Students in Patty Monroe’s ninth-grade world geography class will now take a test specifically designed for that course instead of one covering a broader subject range.
The change is part of the state’s move to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests from th
e Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, which has been used since the 2002-03 school year, according to the Texas Education Agency website.
The new tests will encourage both teachers and students to focus on current course materials, said Monroe, a ninth-grade world geography teacher at Amarillo High School who teaches pre-advanced placement students.
“(Students) are now tested on what they learned this year,” she said. “We always reviewed, but you can’t reteach what they learned in eighth grade.”
The STAAR tests will cover the same subjects as TAKS for students in grades three through eight, Amarillo Independent School District Superintendent Rod Schroder said.
At the high school level, students will take 12 end-of-course tests that will each cover a specific subject, rather than an entire grade level, Schroder said.
“There will be more questions that require more complicated thinking answers, more critical thinking,” he said.
Ninth-graders will be the only high school students to take STAAR tests this coming year, he said. Students in grades 10 and 11 will continue to take TAKS tests and those in grade 12 will be able to take TAKS retests, but those tests will be phased out year by year, he said.
A student’s scores on the end-of-course tests will be averaged to find his or her overall score, Schroder said.
“They could fail one test, but if it wasn’t bad they could excel on another test and average those scores,” he said.
He said students will know within 10 days whether they passed a test, but it could be difficult for the district to ensure students are retested, if necessary.
“It will be somewhat of a nightmare for us to track students’ scores,” Schroder said.
Schroder said the state has not announced what a passing score will be on the tests, which is partly why it will not implement test standards or use the new tests in school accountability ratings until the following year.
State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, a member of the Senate Education Committee, said he believes getting away from the TAKS tests is good, but he is not sure how the STAAR tests will work until students actually take the tests.
“It will be an improvement from TAKS because TAKS was bad,” he said. “It tested for stuff too far in the past.”
However, he said he thinks the STAAR tests will have to be refined in coming years.
“My guess is it will have to have some work done on it,” he said.
Overall, Seliger said he thinks the education system relies too much on standardized testing.
“We’ve always done testing, and it’s been good, but I don’t think they are the key to anything,” he said. “They have their place, but they are not the end all, be all of our education system.”
All of the test dates in the upcoming year are scheduled for the spring, beginning in March, according to the 2011-12 student assessment testing calendar.
The STAAR tests are designed to work with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum, which Monroe said she has used more than her textbooks.
Justin Richardson, executive director for curriculum and professional development at Canyon ISD, said the district has been through several changes in standardized tests. Each new test, he said, is more rigorous and challenges districts to focus on teaching the most important concepts and skills in the correct order as a student moves through the system.
“One of the benefits is that it allows us to reflect on our practices and make sure we’re doing what’s best,” he said.
Monroe said she is looking forward to using the STAAR tests this year, even though they will be more challenging.
“I think we’re ready,” Monroe said. “Accountability is a good thing.”