By KATE LUDLOW
Liberty Hill High School students fared better than most across the state in this spring’s State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) End of Course exams, though the test results still showed some surprising curve balls.
In its first year, the STAAR tests has received criticism from parents, teachers, and state lawmakers for being more rigorous than the previous Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test.
Liberty Hill Independent School District Curriculum Director Claudeane Braun addressed the Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees Monday to present the results of the freshman-level test. Mrs. Braun agrees the test is more rigorous, but credits LHISD teachers with finding new ways to prepare.
“It (the test) requires more thinking, but as it’s phased it, we’re able to learn more about the test,” she said.
Mrs. Braun said that tutorials have been started at the high school for students who did not meet the minimum requirements, and that they will be retested in July.
“The writing was the component that changed the most,” she said. “It was originally two pages of colorful language, now it’s more precise, more like the writing of business. We really didn’t know what type of writing we would have. Now that we know that, (test scores) will come up.”
Rather than test a student’s knowledge and skills learned over multiple years, the test focuses on content taught during the current year.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Mrs. Braun elaborated on the test.
“You can’t just teach to the test. This really tests the depth of knowledge of the curriculum,” she said.
While Mrs. Braun says the STAAR has fewer questions than the TAKS, students “have to apply them in a more novel way. The STAAR really tests in a unique way. It really goes down to the application level.”
The test is based on state curriculum directly from the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the state standard for student knowledge. She said 35 percent of the questions are readiness.
Mrs. Braun said she thinks the controversy stems from fear – failure to meet state minimums on the test could discourage students, making it harder to get their diplomas.
“Because there are 12 End of Course exams, if a student falls behind in one, it can make it difficult to catch up. If they get behind, it’s going to be harder to get their diplomas,” she said.
According to Mrs. Braun, there were only a “handful” of students who did not meet satisfactory scores on the test, and even fewer who failed to meet the minimum. The
students who met the minimum scores are not legally required to retake the test, but the school is encouraging it.
“These scores go into the cumulative scores, and you have to have a certain number to graduate,” she added.
LHHS is providing students who are retaking the STAAR test with a two-week tutorial at the high school, which is separate from credit recovery summer school. The retest will be in July.
Mrs. Braun credits the students and teachers with the higher-than-average test scores.
“We have good kids and good teachers. They’re trying to make a real effort,” she said. Preparations began even before the test was in place.
“Since they started talking about the test, we have stayed on top of this,” she said.
Along with sample questions, the teachers were able to draw from the state TEKS to come up with the materials necessary for testing.
More than 319,000 students statewide took the five sections that will make up the STAAR test. According to the Texas Educations Agency, “passing rates on five rigorous key end-of-course tests ranged from 87 percent on the biology test to 55 percent on the English I writing test.”
The number of questions that students must answer correctly will increase until 2016, when the final passing requirements will be in place.
To learn more about the STAAR, visit www5.esc13.net/staar/parent_resources.html.