School will soon be tougher for Texas students, going by the harder standards and more rigorous questions found inside the STAAR.
STAAR stands for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. It's the new standardized test replacing the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills for public school students currently in third through ninth grades. All high-schoolers besides this year's freshman class will continue to fall under the old TAKS system as educators phase the new test in.
The first round of tests starts next month.
"We've heard it's going to be a lot harder," said Ariana Solis, an eighth-grader at Rio Bravo Middle School in the Ysleta Independent School District.
Materials put out by the Texas Education Agency indicate Solis is right and the STAAR will be far more rigorous than the TAKS.
Xavier De La Torre, superintendent of the Socorro Independent School District, explained state educators and lawmakers got rid of the TAKS for the students' sake.
"Students who on the surface appeared to be doing very well on TAKS but who would perform poorly on SAT, ACT exams," said De La Torre. "If we expected our students to compete not only with students around the country, but with students from other countries, we would have to have higher expectations."
Thus, officials instituted the tougher standards.
In the new test, students will be required to write an extra essay. The STAAR's questions require more critical analysis skills and feature less multiple-choice questions, according to the TEA.
"(STAAR's) questions require a multistep process to arrive at the solution rather than, 'Can you name the capital of Texas?'" said De La Torre.
The TAKS had no time limit, whereas students must finish STAAR exams within four hours unless they qualify for an exception.
Another new feature is the End Of Course exams, or EOCs, for high-schoolers. Under the TAKS, high-schoolers only had to pass one 11th-grade exit-level exam covering four subjects -- English, math, science, and social studies -- to get a diploma. The STAAR generation will have pass 12 course-based tests -- English 1 (reading and writing), English 2 (reading and writing), English 3 (reading and writing), Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, World Geography, U.S. History and World History.
The EOCs are expected to count toward 15 percent of a student's final class grade on the subject tested. The TEA recently deferred that requirement after some public outcry, but only for this year's freshman class.
"A 'B' in this system, I think, will be better than an 'A' in the old system," said De La Torre.
However, it's tough to anticipate how success will be measured. Students will get a raw score, but STAAR's performance standards will not be set until October 2012 for third- through 8th-graders. The TEA is expected to set performance standards for freshmen sometime earlier.
"We do expect that the numbers, the passing percentage will likely temper," said De La Torre. "We will likely see a dip. Our goal is not to dip as far as many school districts."
That's why the word on STAAR is spreading now. SISD is holding community meetings with parents and sending out newsletters. The district's next public forum is scheduled for March 7 at 6 p.m. inside the theater at Americas High School.
Other districts are getting students and parents involved, too. ABC-7 went to an El Paso Independent School District community meeting where the STAAR was brought up.
At the Yselta Independent School District, administrators let an ABC-7 crew inside a classroom to see its STAAR curriculum in action.
"I'm a little nervous, but I'm sure I'll pass the STAAR," said Solis.
ABC-7 asked four borderland school districts the same series of questions regarding the STAAR. Click below to see their responses to these questions. Please note some of these responses were given before the 15 percent grade requirement was waived by the TEA. Also note every district was asked the following five questions in the same way. Some questions were not answered, and ABC-7 did not edit any of the school districts' responses in any way.
1. How is (your district) preparing for the new STAAR test?
2. Are there any concerns about the new STAAR test? 3. Have there been any special purchases by the district specifically meant to prepare students for the STAAR test (including but not limited to consultant services for teachers, books, computer software, etc.)? 4. If so, could you list those purchases and the cost? 5. Have budget cuts affected the way the school district prepares for standardized tests like the STAAR?
Related Links:El Paso ISD Response To STAAR Questions