Get ready to say good-bye to TAKS and hello to STAAR.
Beginning in the 2011-12 school year, the state’s standardized testing program, now called the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, will be replaced by the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR (pronounced "star").
Dramatic changes are in store for high school students, who now will be subject to end-of-course exams.
Students who currently are in eighth grade will be the first to take the end-of-course tests.
Under the TAKS system, students were required to pass four "exit" exams in four core subject areas in order to graduate. The four subject areas are: math, science, social studies, and language arts.
Under the new end-of-course, or EOC system, students will have to pass 12 end-of-course exams in order to graduate, which means they must pass three tests in the four subject areas. In addition, students’ test scores will count for 15 percent of their grade in the course, which means test scores will affect a student’s grade point average.
The specific courses that will be tested are: English 1, 2, 3; Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2; World Geography, World History, and U.S. History; and Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.
One of the critiques of the TAKS exit exams is that students were tested on material they had been taught one, two, or even three years earlier.
"With end-of-course tests, there will be cleaner and clearer alignment of the written, tested, and taught curriculum," said Sara McAndrew, Executive Director of Secondary Instruction. "Teachers won’t have to stop teaching current course materials to review what the students learned in previous courses."
The advantage of end-of-course tests is that the material will be fresher for students. However, the expectations will be greater, Superintendent John Folks said.
"I think it is going to be much more challenging and difficult for our students to pass the end-of-course exams," he said. "It will be specifically tied to a course so content will be much more in-depth and comprehensive. It will be harder, but from an educational standpoint, the rigor will be beneficial to our students."
Testing of students in grades 3 to 8 will remain largely the same, but the tests are expected to be more difficult. Writing, for example, will be expanded from one day to two days.
From a district perspective, the transition from TAKS to STAAR will be challenging. Next year, ninth graders will be taking end-of-course tests, while 10th, 11th, and 12th graders will continue to take TAKS tests.
The sheer number of tests and retests will increase significantly, and keeping track of student test scores and needed intervention will require a huge effort, McAndrew said.
"Schools will be running dual testing systems," McAndrew said. "The state needs to step up and give us a data system so everybody – students, parents, teachers, counselors, principals – knows where kids sit and what their choices are."