We are coming up on STAAR test season once again. The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, tests are administered to all Texas public school students in grades 3-12 in the spring of each year. State-developed curriculum standards guide educators as they teach, and the purpose of STAAR testing is to measure student learning against those standards. The tests also determine whether students are ready for the next grade. State-level tests are given for the subject areas of reading, writing, math, science and social studies.

The number of tests your child takes each year depends on which grade he is in, but most students will have two to four testing days during the school year. There are also several end-of-course assessments, which are required for high school graduation, including algebra I, biology, English I, English II and U.S. history.

For most students, STAAR tests are given in the regular classroom. The teacher prepares the room for testing, removing or covering any learning materials and arranging desks to reduce distractions and allow for privacy.

But what if your child needs a bit more than separate desks and hidden materials? Some students have special needs and might require unique accommodations to test successfully. Allowances can be made for these students, so they can achieve their best possible outcome during testing. An admission, review and dismissal (ARD) committee at your child’s school makes accommodation decisions for each student based on the particular disability or need.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is the state agency that oversees public education in Texas. The TEA’s accessibility policies designate three levels of accommodations for students in need: accessibility features, designated supports and designated supports requiring the TEA’s approval.

Accessibility Features

These are procedures and materials that are allowed for any student who regularly uses them in the classroom. Accommodations are available; however, students are not required to use them during testing, and their use does not need to be indicated on the STAAR answer document. In some cases, a student using these accommodations will need to test in a separate setting to minimize distraction.

Examples include:

  • Test directions can be signed for hearing-impaired students.
  • Test directions can be translated for English learners.
  • Students may use a bilingual dictionary on math, science and social studies assessments.
  • Students may read the test aloud to help comprehension.
  • Writing prompts may be read aloud or signed upon student request.
  • Third grade math test questions or answer choices may be signed or read aloud upon student request.
  • Fourth grade student response to the writing prompt may be typed into the online test for any 4th grader who can’t type proficiently.
  • The following tools can be used: scratch paper or dry erase boards; colored overlays or color settings for online tests; blank place markers or a guideline tool for online tests; magnifying devices or the zoom feature for online tests; highlighters, colored pencils or any other tools that can be used to focus attention on text; amplification devices, such as speakers; projection devices, such as LCD projectors.
  • Students can use tools to minimize distractions or help focus, such as stress balls or noise-reducing headphones.
  • Students can test individually or in small groups.
  • Reminders to stay on task can be given.
  • Non-secure test materials can be copied or enlarged.

Designated Supports

These are locally-approved supports for students who meet eligibility criteria. They include:

  • Basic transcribing
  • Braille
  • Calculation aids
  • Content and language supports
  • Extra time
  • Individualized, structured reminders
  • Large print
  • Manipulation of test materials
  • Mathematics manipulatives
  • Oral/signed administration
  • Spelling assistance
  • Supplemental aids

Designated Supports Requiring theTEA’s Approval

These supports require approval, which is obtained through an accommodation request process. They include:

  • Complex transcribing. The test administrator may record responses to the writing prompts when a student with a disability cannot accomplish this task independently.
  • Extra day.
  • Math scribe. The test administrator may record a student’s scratch work and computations when a disability prevents the student from doing so.
  • Other. This includes any supports not provided in the TEA’s list of potential accommodations.

For accommodations requiring the TEA’s approval, a team of people at your child’s school will determine whether your child meets all the eligibility criteria set forth by the TEA. If the determination is favorable, the team will submit an Accommodation Request Form to the TEA.

In the case of English Language Learners (ELLs), a Language Proficiency Assessment Committee (LPAC) will decide which types of accommodations will be best. For example, the STAAR Spanish version of the test might be best for students in bilingual programs who do most of their learning in Spanish.

STAAR testing can be nerve-wracking for both students and parents. The good news is that the goal of the local and state education system is for your child to do as well as possible during testing. Your child’s teacher and school can work with you to figure out how best to help your individual child — you are not in this alone!

Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and mom of three.

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