Texas approves test swap for high school students

Students will take new STAAR test instead of TAKS

By Sobia Siddiqui

Since 2003, all Texas high school juniors have anxiously prepared for the TAKS test, hoping to pass it and graduate with the rest of their classmates come senior year.

But the test requirement will change in the 2011-2012 school year when students will be expected to take the State of Texas Assessments and Academic Readiness (STAAR) test every year instead of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. This is different from previous years where juniors took the TAKS test to graduate but were allowed their senior year to make up any portion of the test they may have failed.

The TAKS test was given to students in third, fifth and eighth grades to determine their qualification to reach the next grade level. It has also been issued to 11th graders to decide whether they have the minimal skills necessary in the four core subjects of English, mathematics, science and social studies in order to graduate.

The Texas Legislature passed a bill in 2009 requiring the Texas Education Agency to develop a new test that would raise the standard for Texas students, said Debbie Ratcliffe, director of the communication division for the Texas Education Agency.

“It’s a harder test,” Ratcliffe said. “Students will be tested at a greater depth and complexity than they were with TAKS and any of the previous tests.”

With the TAKS test, students were required to pass four subject exams at the end of their junior year to meet the graduation requirement.

Under the STAAR test, however, students will be expected to pass 12 different tests over the course of their four years in high school to meet all their graduation requirements, Ratcliffe said.

The STAAR test will also focus on college and career readiness for older students.

“For the TAKS test, I feel like a lot of the parents and the general public felt like teachers were teaching the TAKS test instead of teaching the curriculum,” said Crystal Anthony, a member of the West Independent School District board of trustees as well as professor for the Multiculturalism College Experience class offered at Baylor.

“The STAAR [tests] are more like exit-level exams, so whatever you learned for that year, you’re tested over that. I feel like that’s better.”

Jay Davis, district testing coordinator of Waco ISD, also believes the STAAR exams will test students in a better way.

“It’s more of a grade-level test instead of a cumulative test,” Davis said. “It’ll be a lot more pertinent than the TAKS test.”

Ratcliffe said there will be more essay and short-answer questions under the reading and writing sections of the STAAR test, as well as more questions requiring calculations and explanations under the math and science sections of the test.

“You can’t use process of elimination to guess and answer,” Ratcliffe said.

Originally like the TAKS test, the STAAR test was not expected to have a time limit while it was being developed in December 2010.

Ratcliffe said a time limit is currently being considered.

Developers and coordinators are considering timing each subject test within a regular school day, with the exception of the English subject exam, so there will be no students and faculty remaining until 6 p.m. to finish the examination.

“Because we’re requiring more writing on the high school English exam, we’re recommending those be given over a two-day period,” Ratcliffe said. “There are more short answer and essay questions involved, so that’s why we think the kids will need more time.”

Unlike the TAKS test, students who fail a section of the STAAR test will not be required to take a separate preparation class.

“If they got a passing grade in the course, they wouldn’t have to retake the course. They would just retake the test,” Ratcliffe said.

According to the Texas Education Agency, the new state accountability rating system will debut in 2013.

“Normally what we see happen when we introduce a new test is that the passing rate dips for a couple of years,” Ratcliffe said. “Then people become more comfortable with the exam and have a little better sense of what to expect on it, and then the scores start to go back up.”