Every year, Liberty Hill Curriculum Director Claudeane Braun sits down in a quiet office with a few sharp pencils, an eraser, and a copy of the current versions of math benchmark tests.
As a former elementary school teachers, she takes her time and works her way through the questions. She said she has noticed that every year, she reaches her frustration level a little bit earlier than she did the year before.
To her, that means tests are getting tougher because students are learning more.
“When Texas first started standardized testing, we were testing basic skills. If we compare those tests to those today, there is a much higher level of thinking required,” she said.
With almost 30 years in the public school business, Mrs. Braun said regardless of the instrument used, standardized testing programs have improved the quality of public schools in Texas and students are learning and achieving at higher levels as a result.
“It (testing) makes us (educators) more aware of what we do and what each student is doing, and that helps improve the system. We need it to keep us on track,” she said.
The vast majority of Liberty Hill students met or exceeded the passing standards on the state-mandated Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) during the 2010-2011 academic year. With the positive results comes a Recognized rating for the school district.
Mrs. Braun said she is pleased with the performance of students and teachers, and the entire staff is aiming for the Exemplary rating. But in the coming school year, the stakes will be higher as teachers across Texas say farewell to TAKS and embrace the latest test — the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR).
Mrs. Braun said local teachers are participating in staff development and training this summer to hone teaching skills and learn techniques to help students be successful on the new and more challenging testing system.
“We are anticipating more depth and rigor in the questioning,” Mrs. Braun said. “Up to this point, the questions were knowledge-based. The STAAR test will require more of a thought process to come up with the answers.”
She explained that test objectives measure readiness for higher education and are more in line with expectations for those pursuing college and careers. To be successful on the test, more will be required of students.
Liberty Hill students have been successful with the TAKS, she said. In fact, scores have improved significantly in recent years, and Mrs. Braun says teachers deserve much of the credit, particularly when it comes to working with students who need more individualized instruction.
“Our scores have improved in many cases, and we have been working on our sub-groups (economically disadvantaged,
Hispanic/Latin), particularly in the areas of science and math,” she said.
Among the most significant improvements she cited were gains in science and math at Liberty Hill High School where the percentage of students meeting the passing standard jumped from 78 to 83 among those considered economically disadvantaged, and from 73 to 84 among Hispanic/Latin students.
“Teachers there (LHHS) are pulling kids together who need different types of instruction,” she said. “And the high school is really working hard to convince the kids to work hard. As a result, we have seen growth across the board.”
Districtwide, 90 percent or more of students scored at the exemplary level on each portion of the exam — math, reading, writing, science and social studies. Students in subgroups fell a few points shy of the mark on science.
In comparison with other school districts in Central Texas, Liberty Hill had more students scoring at exemplary levels at each grade level.
Mrs. Braun said she expects local student performance to remain high despite the presence of a new testing instrument. But educators are leaving nothing to chance.
“The only way we know to prepare for this new test is to teach what the state says,” she said. “We have to teach the curriculum and make the connections.”
She said benchmark tests are used as a way to measure progresss throughout the year prior to the administration of the TAKS (or the STAAR in spring 2012). Results of the benchmarks are used to determine whether students need additional help or intervention.
Students in grades three through eight will take the STAAR in spring 2012. Students at the high school level will take End of Course exams in specific core subjects. Mrs. Braun said end-of-course exams will increase in difficulty from year to year and will measure a higher level of thinking relating to content skills taught in each course. Rather than test a student’s knowledge and skills learned over multiple years, the test will focus on content taught during the current year.
To learn more about the STAAR, visit www5.esc13.net/staar/parent_resources.html.