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STAAR Math Assessments


The development of state standards for K-12 Mathematics was adopted by the State Board of Education in 1998 for Texas schools. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for Mathematics identify what students should know and be able to do at every grade. More specifically, the Mathematics TEKS measure student proficiency in the acquisition of knowledge and skills covered by the curriculum at the specified grade level. Students should not be compared to each other but rather evaluated on how well they are individually meeting grade-level standards. These standards provide a consistent framework to prepare all students for success in K-12 educational years and as they advance to college and careers. Texas measures how well students are progressing in mathematics with the statewide assessment, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR™).

The most recent STAAR™ assessments earmark a significant change in the State of Texas assessment system. According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), assessments will contain rigor beyond what has appeared in past state assessments. The rigor of items “will be increased by assessing skills at a greater depth and level of cognitive complexity” (TEA, 2010d). Another new element to the STAAR assessment is the requirement of a four-hour time limit for each assessment. Researchers indicate the importance of a balanced approach to assessments (Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall, and Wiliam, 2003; Garrison and Ehringhaus, 2007). This approach focuses on summative assessments, benchmark or interim assessments, and formative assessments. A comprehensive system is a balanced approach, with all assessments having a relatedness intended to improve achievement. Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned are summative assessments that measure student progress in mathematics at three different points during the year. 

The federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, 2001; 2002), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) mandate that all students participate in the state assessment program. All students must be tested in mathematics content at their respective grade levels. Accountability rules of NCLB remain in effect until ESEA is reauthorized by Congress. Based on NCLB, the Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) increase each year until 2014. By the end of school year 2013-14, the achievement goal is for all students to be 100% proficient in mathematics. As reported by Michelle McNeil (2013), the Obama administration is using waiver authority granted under the current NCLB Act to allow states flexibility from parts of the law, including the requirement that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by the end of the 2013-14 school year. For states given that flexibility, state accountability systems must be designed. The design will incorporate student growth as part of teacher evaluations and identify 15 percent of the lowest-performing schools for targeted interventions. Due to past and present accountability issues, assessment practice is essential to meeting standard mastery. Summative, benchmark, and formative assessments are necessary, developing an accurate picture of a student’s overall academic achievement. Herman, Osmundson, and Dietel (2010) attest to benchmark assessments occupying a space in the middle, yet play an important role in a balanced assessment system. The National Research Council recognizes a comprehensive assessment system as one that is coherent, comprehensive, and continuous (NRC, 2001). Classroom benchmark assessments correlated to the TEKS provide teachers ongoing interval measurements of student progress, thus the rationale for Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned for Levels 3-8. 

These benchmark assessments are designed to measure student acquisition of the knowledge and skills specified in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills at different intervals. Herman (2009) noted there are teachers who want students to demonstrate high performance, thus they deliver instruction around what will be assessed as well as include the assessment format within instruction. When teachers do not clearly understand the standards or the learning targets and are unsure how to design instruction, they may resort to teaching to the test. Often instruction is designed to prepare students for merely multiple-choice formats. It is essential that students not be limited to assessments that are only comprised of selected response. Researchers (Herman, Osmundson, and Dietel, 2010) advocate students be given response items that trigger complex thinking and problem-solving. Constructed response items allow teachers to observe the thought processes and reasoning abilities of students. Open-ended assessment items demonstrate that curriculum and instruction should integrate rigor and depth into daily learning experiences. More specifically, instruction that focuses on memorization and is assessed with multiple-choice should not replace in-depth learning and critical thinking. The primary purpose of Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned is to provide a valid measure of the quality of mathematics education in the classroom or across the campus because they are aligned to the content and process standards. Benchmarks assist campuses in determining how well their mathematics programs are helping students achieve previously set learning goals. The results can depict patterns of performance, noting insufficient performance during the period leading up to the benchmarks. Educators might use the benchmark data to predict if students are on target to meet specific end-of-the-year goals.  Research seems to indicate that students score higher on standardized tests when they experience focused, aligned practice. Therefore, it is imperative that campuses understand why benchmarks are an integral part of the assessment system. Formative assessments are embedded in instruction and used to make informed, ongoing, and timely decisions relative to teaching and learning. The learning targets measured by formative assessments relate to the long-term targets assessed by the benchmarks. Multiple benchmarks address long-term targets, yielding data to show how well students are learning at particular intervals or periods in time. This data relates to the long-term goals as measured by annual assessments (Herman et al., 2010).

At a specific point in time during the year, Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned measure how well students have acquired the knowledge and skills taught during mathematics instruction. The assessments are designed to ensure students are learning at their grade level. Furthermore, Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned provide data to teachers, schools, and school districts to support improved instructional decisions. The Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned serve as accountability measures to help gauge or predict future performance that might occur on state assessments which are part of the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). With summative assessment data, educators can pinpoint areas that require additional attention and focus. 

Periodic exposure to benchmark assessments provides students with opportunities to experience a variety of assessment items and formats for each standard. These experiences will benefit students facing a common assessment. When assessment is an integral part of mathematics instruction, it contributes significantly to students’ mathematical learning (Stecker et al., 2005). Assessment should inform and guide teachers as they make instructional decisions. During the school year, students can take practice tests to evaluate their own work and progress. Teachers could create customized assessments by assigning students only the items that measure a specific standard. Students partake in these opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned. After students are supplied with immediate achievement feedback, then students may proceed to intervention settings to develop standard mastery and ensure performance gaps are closed prior to the state or common assessment administrations. As a result, Motivation Math Benchmark Assessments TEKS Aligned arm teachers with essential data or information that helps in the preparation of future high-quality instruction. 

Results of the Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned provide information about the academic achievement of students. This information is used to identify individual student strengths, determine areas of challenge, and measure the quality of mathematics education across the campus. Utilization of results from various benchmark assessments can help teachers monitor student progress in order to determine future plans for instruction. Following each assessment form in the assessment booklet, students can use Chart Your Success forms to chart assessment data, self-monitor individual progress over time in mathematics, and compare the knowledge and skills to previous assessments.  The involvement of students in assessment promotes student engagement in individual learning targets. Students need to know what learning targets they are responsible for mastering, and at what level (Stiggins, 2007).  Marzano (2005) states, “students who can identify what they are learning significantly outscore those who cannot.” 

For a balanced assessment system, formative assessments must play an essential part of classroom instruction. Formative assessment focuses on improving student performance during classroom instruction whereas summative assessment focuses on accountability and often sorts or classifies students. In formative assessment both teacher and student share responsibility for assessment. The student and teacher share a common understanding of the standards that define quality work. Both student and teacher compare performance to these standards as they assess the work task in progress and when it is completed. Following formative assessment, teaching and learning activities are adjusted to close the gap between the student's performance and the standard. The teacher not only assesses the student's performance, but also provides feedback to the student. Specific, descriptive feedback informs the student as to the next steps to take for improvement in future performance. The teacher will also assess and adjust instruction based on the assessment. Research on formative assessment suggests that students should be aware of their learning targets, their present status, and the next steps in reaching  specified goals or closing any gaps (Atkin, Black, and Coffey, 2001; Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall, and Wiliam, 2003). Such knowledge helps students keep track of their achievements, know how close they are to their learning targets, and determine future steps to advance their learning. When students are aware of individual achievement gaps and teachers motivate students with continuous feedback linked to the expected outcomes and criteria for success, students are able to steadily move forward and close performance gaps in mathematics. Black and Wiliam (1998) note there is evidence to support a strong relationship between interactive feedback and student achievement. Although Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned are summative in nature, the item coding to content and process standards provides teachers information that could impact future instruction. Teachers could use the data in a formative manner, by adjusting future instruction and grouping to address gaps in learning. However used, formative assessments are employed during instruction to advance teaching and learning; benchmark tests provide accountability in determining student learning after instruction. This entire process provides evidence that assessment and instruction are intertwined. Thus, it is important to study the available data provided by Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned for Levels 3-8.

Available for Levels 3-8, Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned are diagnostic and prescriptive in nature. These practice assessments provide educators with detailed information on student progress as well as promoting flexibility of use in a variety of classroom settings. For each grade level, there are three different versions of the assessments (Forms A, B, C) bound into one student assessment booklet. Each form contains the number of test items as specified in the STAAR™ test blueprints for specific levels. The Readiness and Supporting Standards for each grade level are addressed in at least one assessment item per form, but Readiness Standards will have multiple test items. Emphasis is placed on Readiness Standards because of the importance of such standards for success in the grade, the content area, or entry into college or the work force, following the K-12 years. Each form will reflect the state guideline that 75% of items are dual coded to both a content standard and a process standard. Dual coding of items shows that students must be more than smart test takers; they must demonstrate process and problem solving skills in mathematics as well as conceptual understanding. Test items are presented in a “real-world” context when possible. Included will be a mathematics chart with measurement equivalencies and formulas as appropriate for each level. Grid paper will be included for student work. The development of the benchmarks is designed to simulate the actual STAAR assessments. The resource Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned has an online version, Motivation Math Online. The online version encapsulates the print version. Online tracking and reports are available that provide teachers with the data to monitor the progress of students toward standards mastery. 

As shared by the United States Department of Education (2003), No Child Left Behind noted the importance of assessment items that align with the depth and breadth of the academic content standards. Therefore, assessment items in the Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned are coded to the content standard, to the process standard when applicable, to the Depth of Knowledge level (DOK), and to the Rigor/Relevance (R/R) Framework® level.   

The model Depth of Knowledge (DOK) was developed by Norman Webb (Webb, 2002a; 2002b). Dr. Webb advocates the necessity of assessment items matching the standard. Webb stated educators should be aware of the level of demonstration required by a student when a test item is developed, thus the development of his four levels of DOK. Level 1 assessment items have students recall information. Level 2 items ask students to think beyond reproduction of responses. Students use more than one cognitive process or follow more than one step. Students at Level 3 demonstrate higher levels of thought than the previous levels require as these items are more complex. Responses may have multiple answers, but students must choose one and justify the reasoning behind the selection. Assessment items at Level 4 require students to form several connections with ideas. Typically, performance assessments and open-ended responses are written at this level of thought. 

The Rigor/Relevance Framework® is a tool designed by the International Center of Leadership in Education (ICLE, 2012) to examine curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Knowledge of this framework enables educators to prepare instruction and design test items that challenge students to think in increasingly complex ways and apply knowledge through meaningful experiences in their lives, complementing the CCS. This framework uses four quadrants (A, B, C, D) to describe learning or student performance.  The expectation for Quadrant A (Acquisition) is that students choose responses to show they can remember, recall, or understand knowledge. Students in Quadrant B (Application) use acquired knowledge to solve problems, design solutions, and complete work. Questions at this level require students to apply knowledge to new and unpredictable situations. Quadrant C (Assimilation) questions lead students to extend and refine their acquired knowledge in order to use that knowledge automatically and routinely to analyze and solve problems and create solutions. When students respond to Quadrant D (Adaptation) question items, they exhibit competence to think in complex ways, applying their knowledge and skills. Even when presented with complex problems, students show they are able to use extensive knowledge and skills to create solutions and take action that further develops their skills and knowledge.

It appears the national shift towards preparing students to survive in the global market has impacted the assessments undertaken by students in Texas. While Texas does not adhere to the Common Core Standards (CCS) but instead chose to support TEKS, the assessment system in Texas recognizes the importance of preparedness for college and the work force during K-12 education years. Thus, assessments that are specifically designed to address the Mathematics TEKS will not only demonstrate if students can succeed in school but also in the real world.  STAAR™ assessments will portray which students are meeting the challenge of becoming ready for college and the workforce. For the purpose of the Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned, the various DOK and R/R codings are utilized to reflect the rigor and depth in levels of thought required by students on the benchmark assessments. Assessment items displaying rigor require students to use higher-levels of thought, exhibiting a more challenging 21st century learning environment. Students may be asked to use such processes as examine, create, prioritize, decide, produce, assess, generate, or classify. Assessment items reflecting relevance require students to work in real-world contexts.

Over the past years, changes in accountability and testing have led to data playing a major role in the education of students. The U.S. Department of Education advocates the importance of data utilization for guiding instruction and improving student learning. Schools are being strongly encouraged to respond to assessment data, using it to identify students’ academic strengths and needs (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). As educators face increasing accountability pressure from federal, state, and local  entities to improve student achievement, data should become the central element in how students’ academic progress is monitored and how instructional practices are evaluated. There is no single assessment that provides a complete picture of student performance. Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned offers three forms in order to keep a pulse on the progress of student performance, rather than a single snapshot assessment. Each assessment plays a prominent role in determining if quality teaching and learning are occurring. As correct and incorrect assessment answers are analyzed, teachers are able to observe the patterns of thought in which students experience difficulty or exhibit success. This data is informative in that teachers may appropriately adjust and revise instruction to more appropriately address the diversity of needs within classrooms. Thus, assessments have important implications for instruction. Research indicates it is essential that assessment data be used to make well informed instructional decisions (Armstrong and Anthes, 2001; Feldman and Tung, 2001; Forman, 2007; Liddle, 2000). 

Benchmarks provide student achievement data on grade-specific Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills throughout the school year, including the ability to report student achievement approaching, falling below, or exceeding the standards. With three forms of assessment per grade, these assessment instruments are capable of providing data to measure mathematics progress and proficiency throughout the year. The benchmark assessments for math are summative in nature, intended to be administered in their entirety at three different intervals during the year after instruction has occurred. 

Motivation Math Assessments Forms A, B, and C can be used in different ways: as practice, as a diagnostic instrument, and as a teaching tool. Students need opportunities to practice and develop test-taking skills. These tests focus on the skills students will be expected to demonstrate on STAAR™ assessments. A class diagnostic chart is available at which enables teachers to view and determine students’ strengths and weaknesses at that point in time. After the analysis of assessment data, findings may indicate students require additional instruction to address deficits in order to achieve skill mastery and close learning gaps as students move forward toward annual learning goals. If skill deficits exist, then teachers are encouraged to explore different strategies in order to provide additional instruction and practice in order to advance student achievement. More specifically, teachers may design learning experiences to revise their curricula, develop formative assessments, examine instructional methods of delivery, target specific populations for remediation and enrichment, create student academic assistance interventions, and/or develop individual plans for student improvement. Data from the assessments will help teachers identify areas where additional instruction is necessary, thus, using the assessments as teaching tools. Positive adjustments to instruction more than likely lead students to master the standard(s) at hand.

Studies support the use of several measures from which to gauge student achievement. The Mathematics Product Development Team recognized that assessment systems should include a balance of formative and summative data to be most effective in improving outcomes and in making a significant impact on mathematics education. The development team studied available guidelines released by the Texas Education Agency Assessment Division (TEA, 2010a; TEA, 2010b; TEA, 2010c; TEA, 2012). TEA (2012) released a range of sample items and item specifications regarding the assessment of mathematics. This information was considered by the Mathematics Product Development Team in order to design assessment items that measure a deeper understanding. Some TEKS that address Readiness Standards reflect multiple test items within STAAR™ assessment as allowed by the STAAR™ Blueprint. Released information from the TEA indicates that STAAR™ assessments will contain two item types: multiple-choice and open-ended griddable. Griddable items give students opportunities to formulate responses independently without being influenced by provided answer choices. The benchmark assessments will include the same number of items that are answered on open-ended grids as STAAR™ as defined in the information released in the TEA Blueprints for Levels 3-8. The format for Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned will be paper-pencil or an online version of each form, with items following the protocol noted in the STAAR™ Blueprints (2010b). 

As the school year progresses, students who are proficient in the various benchmarks can determine how they might perform on future STAAR™ assessments in mathematics. The three forms offered at each grade enable the Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned to be spread out over the year, leaving a window of time for the state assessments to be administered. As data from the Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned are examined, teachers can identify students who are performing at the grade-specific standard level, those who are exceeding the standards, and those who are approaching or are functioning below the standard. Teachers can also determine and chart the data for the various subgroups (i.e., ethnicity, disadvantaged, special education, and English Language Learners). All subgroups must make sufficient growth in order for the school to achieve the adequate yearly progress (AYP) status per the No Child Left Behind law.

The developers of Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned reviewed relevant reform efforts on teaching and learning in mathematics, studied the Mathematics Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, perused the item specifications released by the state, and employed individual expertise and collective judgment as they designed a resource to lead students into the 21st century. Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned focus on the grade-level Readiness and Supporting Standards for Mathematics. This focus ensures that test items align with the assessed content and process standards, resulting in appropriately written assessment items based on current information. Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, the Rigor/Relevant Framework®, and the TEKS form the basis for designing items that stimulate students' higher-order thinking skills and encourage rigor and depth in thinking. With the Mathematics Standards as academic guiding points, the Mentoring Minds Product Development Team for Mathematics developed Motivation Math Assessments TEKS Aligned, a resource for assessing and strengthening mathematics education for Levels 3-8. 


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