STAAR launch smooth in Denton school district

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The first round of STAAR tests administered this week were carried out smoothly and students seemed to be prepared, according to Denton school district officials and teachers.

Monday through Thursday, third- through ninth-graders took the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. High school students in the 10th through 12th grades and those repeating ninth grade will graduate under Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, requirements and will be given that exam beginning next month. The TAKS test will be completely phased out in 2014, according to Texas Education Agency officials.

“Everything went off without a hitch,” said Mike Mattingly, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and staff development with the Denton school district. “From all the [testing] coordinators that I’ve talked to, … everything seemed to be in order, and that was good, considering that it was brand-new.”

STAAR replaces TAKS, which has served as the state’s standardized test since 2003. The new tests are considered more rigorous. A total of 12 end-of-course assessment exams are replacing general-subject TAKS exams at the high school level, and ninth-graders will begin taking those exams this year.

By law, Denton teachers and administrators aren’t allowed to see the test or discuss it with students, but they said there were indicators that reflected student performance.

“I felt it was successful because no one left the building crying,” which has been the case with previous state standardized tests, said Wilson Elementary School Principal Audrey Staniszewski.

Teachers said students who spoke freely about the test said they felt prepared.

“All the kids felt really good about it,” said Nancy Rana, a fourth-grade teacher at Wilson.

Denton school officials said preparing for the test is like preparing for a competition, music performance or athletic event, and it’s a relief to have completed the first round.

Some teachers said the four-hour time limit on the tests posed challenges for some students.

Debbie Moseley, a fifth-grade math teacher at Wilson, said it was inappropriate that there was no break. If a student went to the restroom, the test clock continued to tick.

Mattingly said teachers have paced their curricula throughout the year to make sure they taught everything sufficiently and that students were learning. The DISD curriculum was aligned with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills criteria, he said, and the district planned out calendars by grade level to show how far along students should be in the curriculum at a given time of the year. It gave them a reading of student performance and those who may have needed additional help, he said. 

“Unless we see results that disappoint us, that’s what we’ll continue doing,” Mattingly said.

Despite a few isolated glitches, the first week of STAAR testing throughout Texas was smooth, TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said. Districts and charter schools were given the option to administer the end-of-course exams online or via the traditional pencil and paper format, she said, and about 16,000 ninth-graders took the test online.

“Overall we’ve tested several million kids this week and it’s gone well,” Ratcliffe said. “We’re off to a good [start].”

However, she said the state is looking at making changes to avoid some of the confusion that accompanied the new test. For example, on the reading and writing portion of the exam, some students got the pages mixed up and wrote responses for essay No. 2 on the page designated for essay No. 1 and vice versa, she said.

The state intends to have all end-of-course test results back to districts and charter schools by June and scores for the third through eighth grades back sometime in the fall, according to TEA officials.

This year, school districts and charters can decide to defer a provision requiring that the high school end-of-course exam count as 15 percent of a student’s final course grade. The provision will be enforced next year.

More than 600 school districts and charters have informed the TEA of their intent to defer the grading requirement. The Argyle, Sanger and Lake Dallas school districts have said that they plan to defer.

Throughout the spring, an estimated 2.6 million students in the third through ninth grades will take STAAR exams, according to TEA officials. About 600,000 high school students in the 10th through 12th grades and those repeating ninth grade will take the TAKS exam.

TAKS testing will start and STAAR exams will continue the week of April 23. Schools have a two-week window, May 7-18, for additional STAAR end-of-course testing.

For more information on the STAAR tests, visit www.tea.state.tx.us.

 

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is btabor@dentonrc.com.


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