10 New Things About STAAR

Ten New Things We Have Learned About STAAR

  1. The new performance levels are called advanced, satisfactory, and unsatisfactory.
  2. Students entering the state universities must now have a college readiness certificate from their high schools.
  3. Current freshmen will have to score at the advanced level on Algebra II and English III to receive a college readiness certificate when they graduate.
  4. The reading assessment includes passages from various genres including poetry and drama.
  5. In reading – advanced students will be able to evaluate the author’s writing choices and how it impacts the reader’s understanding.
  6. In writing – 4s will probably be advanced and 3s will probably be satisfactory. 1s and 2s – unsatisfactory.
  7. Students must be able to work beyond the literal comprehension level of texts to score at the satisfactory level.
  8. Students need to read from a wide range of texts and genres.
  9. Students need to see quality models of the essay modes and have opportunities to practice following the writing process.
  10. The Texas Education Agency is posting information as soon as it is ready at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/staar/.

Austin – A teachers’ workgroup was assembled with representatives from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the College Readiness Board, and high school teachers from across the state to provide a description of the performance levels on the new STAAR test since there will be new performance levels to describe the academic performance of the students. Instead of commended, meets expectations, and does not meet expectations, the performance levels will be advanced, satisfactory and unsatisfactory.

The current freshmen class will come to understand college readiness in a more specific way than their older peers since 2011 legislation requires that high schools provide a certificate of college readiness to state universities. Until 2015, this will be determined by the diploma of the students (Distinguish Achievement, Recommended, Minimum). However,  after 2015, the students must score at the advanced level on their Algebra II and both parts of the English III STAAR assessments to receive the college readiness certificate from their high school.

As the group worked through the English reading and writing performance descriptors, there were several patterns. First, students need to be able to independently read moderately complex texts and understand the subtle nuances of the vocabulary and the text and evaluate the success of the authors in achieving their message to score at the advanced level. At the satisfactory level, the students will be able to recognize how the author created the text through analysis. Understanding the literal level of the text will be expected at the unsatisfactory level. It will no longer be enough for our students to only comprehend the surface meaning of the text they read.

Generally, this is also the pattern for the writing expectations. Advanced students will be able to write a focused (remember the essays are now one-pagers) essay that includes a response with deeper insights. Probably, students that score 4s will be in the advanced level with 3s in the satisfactory level, but that will be clarified when this work is finished. Students will want to spend more time prewriting, so they can get to the point quicker and plan for the depth, and they will want to spend more time in revision to improve their draft and increase the complexity of their writing.

Please read these as my understandings from a two-day interaction with the new assessment standards and this committee. We were told that we were allowed to come back and share what we learned, but the performance levels themselves will not be available until they have been completed and edited.  TEA will post them on the website as soon as they are ready to help guide teachers in their preparation for the new assessments.

It seems like the best way to prepare students for the new STAAR assessment will be to assure that students are spending a great deal of time reading a variety of texts independently. Self-selected reading across genres should work toward accomplishing the goal of helping students learn to recognize author’s style and intent. In addition, students should spend more time in class writing to various, preferably personal, purposes. Students will need explicit instruction that includes professional models and teacher modeling of the various essay formats.

Also, it’s quite clear that the packaged programs and lessons that are popular across the state are inadequate for creating the critical thinking necessary to perform at the advanced level. This should save our districts money that they could reinvest in classroom libraries to get books into our students’ hands. And though the transition will be challenging, teachers will now be able to bring their best teaching strategies back to the classroom, and attend professional development that will enhance their ability to develop the skills of academically diverse students in their classroom through differentiated instruction.

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