Texas public schools are required to participate in standardized testing to comply with federal and state laws. The standardized test that Austin-area students take is called the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness program, or STAAR. Implemented in the spring of 2012 the STAAR was created to assess students’ knowledge of the state standards which are required to be taught in public school classrooms. STAAR results are also used to rate schools and districts, and to identify when a school or district requires state intervention due to low student performance. Finally, students are required to pass certain STAAR end-of-course or (EOC), exams before they are eligible to receive a high school diploma.
STAAR tests are taken annually during the following grades:
- mathematics – grades 3–8
- reading/language arts – grades 3-8
- science – grades 5 and 8
- social studies – grade 8
- end-of-course (EOC) assessments for Algebra I, English I, English II, Biology and U.S. History
As a result of the passage of House Bill, HB, 3906 in 2019, the STAAR program has undergone a major redesign which will affect our kids as they test this spring. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) a state agency that oversees primary and secondary public education, has been working with a wide range of educational partners to determine the most effective way to implement the changes called for in HB 3906 and has released a summary of the changes to the public. The changes will affect all STAAR tests administered this school year, so it is important for parents to be aware of the changes:
Here are the main changes to the STAAR 2023 test:
- new online question formats
HB 3906 specifies that no more than 75 percent of STAAR test points can come from multiple-choice questions. This means that students will now interact with questions in new ways such as by answering in short or extended text, dragging and dropping responses to a given area such as a map or chart, selecting an answer from one or more drop-down menus, manipulating fraction models, and drawing points, lines and other parts of graphs.
- online testing and accommodations One of the biggest changes to the STAAR test is that it will be administered completely online. TEA believes that online administration will allow for quicker results, accommodate the new test question formats and provide accommodations students might receive in the classroom. Online accommodations include the ability to read aloud texts, questions and directions, access to online calculators if needed, and differentiated timelines and shortened sections.
For students who cannot test online, the state is allowing requests for “a special administration of an online assessment,” in other words, a paper version of the STAAR. A request should only be submitted, however, if a required accommodation that has been documented in a student’s individualized education program (IEP), individual accommodation plan (IAP) or 504 paperwork cannot be delivered in an online format. TEA clearly states that requests for paper tests based on parent or student preference will not be granted.
- cross-curricular reading passages A cross-curricular reading passage is one that references content from another subject. While the cross-curricular passages on the reading/language arts test will include topics from other subject areas like social studies, science, math and more, the questions will only assess reading/language arts standards.
- evidence-based writing assessment Beginning this year, reading/language arts assessments will assess both reading and writing and will include an essay at every grade level being tested. The test will shift from a standalone prompt to requiring students to write a response to a reading selection. Students will be asked to write in one of three styles: informational, argumentative or correspondence, and will be graded on a 5-point scale, focusing on language conventions and idea development.
I spoke with several administrators, a curriculum specialist and several teachers to learn their opinions of the STAAR redesign. Unanimously, they felt that students have had a lot of practice with online learning and testing, thanks in part to Covid-19-related Zoom schooling and didn’t anticipate that an online format would be a problem. They felt very positive about the accommodations that would be available to students, particularly the way that speech-to-text and read-aloud capabilities would help those who struggle with reading or writing. However, the greatest area of concern was the change in question formats. The tests will also be administered earlier this year and there was concern about how that would affect lesson pacing.
What can you do to support your child?
- familiarize your child with the new question formats. TEA has provided paper samples that demonstrate what the new questions will look like at: www.tea.texas.gov/student-assessment/testing/new-question-type-paper-samplers
- help calm nerves by stressing that trying his or her best is what counts
- encouraging a good night’s sleep the night before and a healthy breakfast the day of the test
- check in with your child’s teacher for other ways you can offer support at home
The STAAR test is important, but ultimately it is just a snapshot of how your child performed at one time on one particular day. If you work with your child’s teacher to support his or her learning and emphasize careful work above the actual score, you’ll be giving your child their best shot at a successful testing experience.
Alison Bogle is a writer living in Austin with her husband and three children. A former fourth grade teacher, she now enjoys writing about children and education. You can also catch her talking about articles from Austin Family magazine each Thursday morning on FOX 7 Austin.