The students may have left the building, but the first week of the summer has been busy for many Texoma schools. The preliminary results of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness arrived at schools in the first week of June, and districts all across the state are now looking at what went right, what went wrong, and how to best prepare students for next year’s tests.
“The STAAR test is much more rigorous than state tests we’ve seen before,” said Gunter ISD Superintendent Jill Siler. “Overall, the level of rigor and critical thinking that are required in this test are unlike what we’ve seen in previous assessments like TAKS or especially TAAS.”
The STAAR replaced TAKS as the state’s end-of-the-year standardized test three years ago. Students in third through eighth grade take the STAAR in between two to four subjects each year. In fifth and eighth grade, the STAAR must be passed before moving to the next grade. Also included in this new testing regime are “end of course” or EOC tests for high school students. A high schooler must pass EOCs in biology, algebra I, history and English I and II in order to graduate.
Despite the high level of rigor, Gunter and many other Texoma districts performed well above the state average on the majority of assessments. Bells, Howe, Savoy, Van Alstyne, Whitewright and Gunter had above-average passing rates in at least 20 of the 22 tests. Also performing notably well were Collinsville, Dodd City, Pottsboro, S&S, Sam Rayburn, Tioga and Wolfe City.
“I would not say that we are a STAAR-focused district by any stretch, but we are a district that is very focused on the curriculum standards that we teach,” said Siler. “What it really comes down to is good teaching and learning every day in every classroom. This is not an assessment that measures performance in grades three through eleven. This is an assessment that is reflective of the teaching and learning that happens in pre-K and kindergarten, and first grade, and second grade that truly leads to the performance in third grade and beyond.”
Not every district holds such positive feelings for the STAAR, however. “Just because we got high scores does not mean we are fans of the test. I still think there is too much focus on standardized testing,” said Brian Neal, superintendent of Savoy ISD. “There are so many other things that define a successful school.”
In his career as an educator and administrator, Neal said he has prepared students for five different iterations of Texas standardized tests – TABS, TEAMS, TAAS, TAKS and STAAR.
“Throughout the years, testing has gotten much more rigorous,” Neal said. “I like that they have made some improvements on this thing, especially at the high school level, but I still think that the pressure is too great at the elementary level, for the little kids.”
Neal told a story of a third grader on the honor roll who, when it came time for the STAAR tests to be passed out, got so nervous she thew up and had to be sent home. She was initially given a failing grade for the test before being given the chance to retake it in a lower-stress environment. “That kind of test anxiety should not be on a third grader,” Neal said.
Despite its problems, the STAAR test doesn’t seem likely do go away any time soon. School districts now begin the process of looking towards next year’s test, identifying students who will need extra help and preparing strategies to teach difficult subject areas.
In Denison, director of special programs and assessments Brent Hoy said the district is proud of the work of their students and teachers, but plans to improve scores are already unfolding.
DISD has targeted math and writing as areas which need improvement. “Through the course of the summer, our curriculum department is providing opportunities for our math teachers to come in and work with experts in the field on how to apply problem solving and thinking in the classroom, beyond just coming up with an answer.” Hoy said that these new strategies will help students learn how to deal with the complex, multi-stage math problems they face in the STAAR.
“Also, several of the campuses are looking at incorporating writing across the curriculum,” Hoy added. “Looking at students not only writing in writing class or English class, where you would associate that, but writing in science, writing in math, writing in social studies, writing in physical education.”
“There are all sorts of opportunities” to raise test scores, said Hoy, and Denison is actively searching for them.
One thing that both Siler and Neal credit for their districts’ success is something outside of the control of districts like Sherman and Denison – small campuses and class sizes.
“We have been very blessed to have a small environment for a long time – small class sizes where every child is known,” said Siler. “No one is just a number in our system.”
Neal agreed that small districts are often able to identify students who need help and deliver them personalized attention. “It’s helpful to be small sometimes,” said Neal. “But the flip side is that if you get one age group that happens to have three or four kids who struggle, that can really knock you down. Because one student can be five or six percent of the grade, you don’t have room for many to fail.”
Below are passing rates from Sherman and Denison – results from other districts across Fannin and Grayson county can be found on our website. All scores are preliminary – many students who did not pass will be retested before final passing rates are determined. Numbers reflect the percent of students who passed each test.
Third grade: math, 73%; 3rd grade reading, 80%; Fourth grade: math, 65%; reading, 77%; writing, 72%; math, 85%; fifth grade reading, 85%; science 71%; Sixth grade: math, 81%; reading, 81%; Seventh grade: math, 73%; reading, 75%; writing, 69%; Eight grade: math, 88%; reading, 88%; science, 70%; social studies, 55%; EOC: algebra I, 87%; biology, 96%; English I, 75%; English II, 78%; U.S. history, 98%
Third grade: math, 71%; reading, 83%; Fourth grade: math, 69%; reading, 75%; writing, 68%; Fifth grade: math, 87%; reading, 87%; science 81%; Sixth grade: math, 71%; reading, 73%, Seventh grade math, 61%; reading, 73%; writing, 70%; Eighth grade math, 86%; reading, 89%; science, 71%; social studies, 64%; EOC: algebra I, 88%; biology, 95%; U.S. history, 96% (English I & II results excluded due to missing answer sheets. One hundred sixty-four English I & II answer sheets did not arrive at the grading facility. If the sheets are not found, affected students will have to re-take test.)