Archive for the ‘STAAR/EOC’ Category

Preparing for the Reading and Writing STAAR the Smart Way

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Janet Hester, Secondary ELAR Specialist

Begin at the Beginning: The STAAR-Prep Dilemma

What do we do when students enter our classrooms lacking confidence and fluency in writing? For many schools and districts in Texas, the attempted answer to this skills deficit has been to drill students on writing the STAAR tasks over and over again. Twenty-six lines, over and over. And in the same manner, practice multiple choice reading and writing packets over and over again. Test-prep passage and multiple choice bubbles, over and over.

We know that such practice does not raise confidence and fluency in writing and reading. Students might improve in jumping through a very specific hoops when they are challenged to write 26 lines of expository text repeatedly, but their versatility as writers and their confidence and joy in writing will have be the price they pay for this act. In the same manner, when we curtail our engaging reading instruction for packet work, we may stunt our students’ growth. Traditional STAAR prep has led to slightly more prepared, but very burnt-out students.

We all know this. But, without these traditional practices, we are sometimes stuck on how to create a transference of skills on test day.

Transitioning to STAAR: The Test as Genre Unit

When we begin to prepare students for STAAR reading and writing tasks, we should not throw out all the good work that has come before in instruction, much of which has been presented through a reading and writing workshop model for many Region 13 teachers.

3The Test as Genre Unit is a tried-and-true method of preparing students for standardized tests while building on what has already transpired in classrooms. It is a riff played on the Genre Study Unit through which many schools deliver ELAR instruction. If your curriculum is grouped in units by genre, instruction was delivered as a genre study. Students read and wrote fiction pieces in one unit of study. Students read and wrote persuasive pieces in another unit of study. Most definitely, students read and wrote expository texts in the expository unit. 

Katie Wood Ray in Study Driven details a Genre Study Unit cycle:

Stage Description
Gather Texts The teacher, sometimes along with students, gathers examples of the kind of writing students will do.
Setting the Stage Students are told they will be expected to finish a piece(s) of writing that shows the influence of the study.
Immersion The teacher and students spend time reading and getting to know the texts they’ll study. They make notes of things they notice and about how the texts are written. They think about the process writers use to craft texts like the ones they are studying.
Close Study The class revisits the texts and frames their talk with the question, “What did we notice about how these texts are written?” The teacher and students work together to use specific language to say what they know about writing from this close study, developing curriculum as they go. The teacher, through modeling, takes a strong lead in helping students envision using what they are learning in their own writing.
Writing Under the Influence Students (and often the teacher) finish pieces of writing that show (in specific ways) the influence of the study.

(Wood Ray, 2006, p. 111)

4In our schools, this cycle might look a little different. Teachers might weave the different stages of the cycle together so they take place simultaneously. Due to scheduling in some middle school classes, students might also experience the different stages in separate reading and writing classes. However, most students will have experienced this sequence of reading in a genre and then emulating craft moves they learned to write in that genre.

When students have been immersed in reading and writing in different genres throughout the year and the STAAR test is drawing near, they are ready to begin a Test as Genre unit. A Test as Genre unit follows the same methodology as other genre units. Students immerse themselves in the genre of the test, reading passages from released tests as well as reading and discussing the types of multiple–choice questions they will have to answer. Students explore the writing tests’ tasks and prompts. As a result, they slowly begin to build a rapport with the standardized test. In this case, familiarity breeds confidence. Randy Bomer, the director of the Heart of Texas Writing Project, describes his process:

“I like to throw a huge pile of tests onto a table and invite students to browse through them and see what they notice in them. I want them to see tests not as something fearsome that controls their fate but as a dime a dozen, common as can be, which they are. I want to position the students as powerful, intelligent analyzers of these kinds of texts.” (Bomer, 2011, p. 285)

After this close study, students write passages and questions that imitate the released tests they studied following the Katie Wood Ray cycle from above. Students study writing prompts and write their own. When students have been reading like writers all year in other genre inquiry units, the Test as Genre is a logical next move in preparation for the test. They have been reading like writers all year in other genre inquiry units, reading like poets, reading like op–ed journalists, reading like short-story writers. Now, in the Test as Genre unit, they read like test makers, practicing the reader and writer moves they have been honing all year (Atwell, 2002; Bomer, 2004; Bomer, 2011; Fletcher & Portalupi, 2001; Serafini; Taylor, 2008). Region 13 will hold a full-day, just-in-time workshop on implementing this type of unit on February 29, 2016.

Using the Region 13 Elementary and Secondary Playbooks as Part of the Test as Genre Unit

In the weeks leading up the tests, not only are students analyzing passages and multiple choice questions from both the reading and writing tests; they should also be honing in on the specific expository writing craft they will need to write a satisfactory essay on the day of the test.

5With respect to the STAAR expository writing tasks, the Region 13 Product Store now sells two products that will help the accomplished and the novice teacher alike. The Elementary and Secondary Expository Playbooks offer immediate tools and strategies for a Grade 4 and English I teacher.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The Elementary Expository Playbook breaks down the five components of STAAR expository writing: Focus, Organization, Idea Development, Progression, and Language and Conventions.

For each component, the playbook provides a chapter outlining

  • the fundamentals of what each component means in the context of the STAAR expository task;
  • two published mentor informational texts that powerfully demonstrate the chapter’s component (for example, a mentor text that employs a strong problem/solution organizational structure in the Organization chapter);
  • four STAAR expository students essays to demonstrate strong and developing examples of that writing component; and
  • several plays, or instructional strategies, to use to improve that writing component in student writing. All plays begin with the writer in mind and inspire confidence and transfer of skills on test day.

Often, teachers do not have the time to find specific mentor texts to demonstrate the skills they wish their students to emulate. The Playbook saves so much time, in that published mentor texts, strong student examples, and weaker student examples are already there, organized under specific instructional targets with helpful teacher commentary.

6The Secondary Playbook follows the same pattern of including content, mentor texts, and student essays that align to the English I expository task. Grade 7 writing teachers will definitely find support for the Test as Genre unit in either playbook.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            When preparing students for STAAR, we must instill a cheerful attitude that builds upon the skills students certainly have. Asset-based instruction reminds students of all their world knowledge and invites the students to bring this knowledge into the standardized writing and reading tasks.

For more information about the Playbooks and implementing a Test as Genre Unit, contact:

Janet Hester
Secondary ELAR Specialist
janet.hester@esc13.txed.net

Laura Lee Stroud
Elementary ELAR Specialist
lauralee.stroud@esc13.txed.net

Sources:

Atwell, N. (2002). Lessons that change writers. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Bomer, R. (2004). Strong enough for tests and life. College Board Review, 41-43.
Bomer, R. (2011). Building adolescent literacy in today’s English classrooms. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Fletcher, R., & Portalupi, J. (2001). Writing workshop: The essential guide. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Serafini, F. (n.d.). Standardized tests as a genre. Retrieved from www.frankserafini.com: http://www.frankserafini.com/classroom-resources/standardized-tests-as-a.pdf
Taylor, M. M. (2008, Spring/Summer). Changing the culture of “test prep”: Reclaiming writing workshop. Language Arts Journal of Michigan, 23-34.
Wood Ray, K. (2006). Study driven: A framework for planning units of study in the writing workshop. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Content in this article addresses T-TESS Planning dimension 1.3 – Knowledge of Students and Instruction dimension 2.2 – Content Knowledge and Expertise.

Prepare Ahead for STAAR and EOC Testing Accommodation Decisions

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author:  Judy Butler, Education Specialist, Dyslexia and 504

 

Parents and teachers prefer to provide for a student’s educational  needs without having to consider that the child may have a disability.  For many students with both mental and physical impairments, particularly within the elementary grades, referrals for Section 504 eligibility determination may be avoided or delayed if the student is able to receive RtI, health services, or dyslexia services outside of Section 504 or Special Education identification.  With the increased rigor of End of Course exams in high school, districts and parents may suddenly realize that students will face serious roadblocks to graduation and college admission without access to accommodations available only to students identified as Section 504 or Special Education with a documented need written into an Individualized Accommodation Plan or IEP.   According to the currently posted TEA Accommodations Triangle, http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/accommodations/staar-telpas/ , a student must need the accommodations within the classroom, and use them routinely and effectively as well as meet very specific eligibility criteria.

 

Many of the new STAAR Accommodations are available to any students, students within RtI, 504 only, or Special Education, but some, like Spelling Assistance on Reading Assessment short answers and Written Composition, and Calculative Devices are not available to only 504 or Special Education students.  Additionally, an Oral/Signed Administration accommodation is not available to any student, unless that student has also been identified with dyslexia and is in RtI, or is a Section 504 or Special Education student with dyslexia or has evidence of reading difficulties.

 

This suddenly realized fear that a child might need an accommodation to pass, but does not currently meet the eligibility criteria, can cause panic in the hearts of parents of struggling students when they consider the consequences to high school graduation, documentation to support the need for SAT/ACT accommodations, college admissions and access to services for students with disabilities at the college level.  This nagging fear can cause panic in the minds of school administrators when they consider the impact that failing STAAR or EOC scores will have on state and federal accountability measures as well as the educational planning and resources needed to remediate student achievement.  This sudden realization may also result in larger numbers of students being referred for Section 504 or Special Education evaluation a month, two weeks, or even days ahead of STAAR and EOC testing dates.   The time involved with gathering the data along with documentation insuring accommodations have been routinely and effectively used in the classroom and are usually a logistical impossibility within these last minute time parameters.

 

Fear of anticipated student low performance or failure on STAAR or EOCs should never be the sole cause for initiating a Section 504 or Special Education evaluation to determine need for accommodations.  However, it is possible that a disabled student  who may have survived their school career without being identified as Section 504 or Special Ed eligible will now need documented accommodations due to the following circumstances:  teachers freely made accommodations,  the student was able to receive the Dyslexia Bundled Accommodations without being Section 504 in previous years of TAKS testing, the physical or mental disability now limits a major life activity due to increased expectations or limited time parameters, lack of access to effective interventions, or even changes in the student’s health conditions.

 

Below are a few tips for making sure that students who truly need testing accommodations receive them long before STAAR and EOC test dates arrive:

-Establish and communicate district policies to both parents and teachers of all grade levels about referral processes and the types of information needed to warrant suspicion of a disability.

  • Public school staff may access a free Region 13 online workshop entitled: “Understanding Basic 504 Procedures and Services:  A Campus Training” by registering with Workshop ID:   FA1224572
  • Contact your regional Education Service Center 504 Specialist to aid with establishing district procedures and parent education regarding Section 504.

-For students within RtI, be sure that RtI teams are collecting progress monitoring data and referring students to 504 or Special Education evaluations when more intensive services and protections are warranted.

-Be sure that English Language Learners are not being overlooked.  Specialized training is needed by assessment personnel to determine if poor achievement is due to the process of English language acquisition, or is also impaired by a mental or physical impairment.  This is especially true if the impairment is dyslexia.  Contact your regional educational specialist in dyslexia if you need to contract with a Bilingual Assessment Specialist.

-Educational need is not required to trigger the need for Section 504 referral.  A child need not have failing grades or previously failing test scores before being evaluated for Section 504.

-Remember that there is no standard set of accommodations for any specific type of disability.  Both classroom and testing accommodation decisions should be based on evidence of student need on a case by case basis, and documented within that student’s Individualized Accommodation Plan or IEP.  The TEA Accommodations Triangle provides specific guidance for how the need and effectiveness for many accommodations can be determined.

-Consult with Assistive Technology Specialists, within district or Education Service Center regional specialists, for tools in how to determine the best low or high-tech device for each student.  Experiment with the student to evaluate the effectiveness of the technology.

-Remember that providing unnecessary accommodations within the classroom and in testing situations can be damaging to a student and their future educational success.

-Reference Region 13’s new “Scaffolding Accommodations” guide, available through the Product section of our website:  http://store.esc13.net/index.php/special-ed/scaffolding.html  when making and documenting accommodation decisions within an RtI, 504, or ARD committee meeting.

Reflections from an EOC Parent, Part 3

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author:  Collections compiled from a team of Education Specialists

 

In each In-Sight newsletter this academic year, we feature a reflection from a parent of an “EOC student”.  Current 10th grade students have been the first to interact with the new EOC assessments and, as a result, we can learn from their experiences and those of their families.  It is also possible to unintentionally send the wrong information or share information that is not quite as clear for the person receiving it as it could be in order for it to be informative and helpful.  It can be easy to forget that our perspective and the jargon we use on a daily basis as professionals in the education business does not always translate easily to those unfamiliar with the industry’s language and this is even truer when you consider non-native English speakers and readers.  As we learn and navigate these new waters, it is also our responsibility to help others do the same; after all our goals include students owning their own learning and for families to be informed and involved.

While this installment is indeed a reflection from an EOC parent, it also happens to be a parent with a good deal of knowledge and experience within the education system.  The entry describes interactions between parent and student leading up to the implementation of this new assessment program but then goes beyond to offer a look at the data.  This is a wonderful addition as we begin to receive more data and face analysis, distribution, and clarification of it.  The pictures included come from the EOC report received by the parent.  In this case the parent’s experience allowed for easy navigation but the entry does raise the question as to whether or not all of our stakeholders truly know what this information means.  This EOC parent also added a few questions that arose as a result of looking at their student’s data.  Are we prepared to answer these types of questions?  You will also find short answers to each question included.

As always, identifying information has been changed or deleted but the reflection piece itself remains as intended by its author.

 

 

As an educator with a freshman son, I humorously referred to myself last year as an EOC Mom.  My son didn’t quite take the arrival of this new assessment as I did.  I sat him down last fall and showed him the PowerPoint posted on the Region 13 website that gave a general overview of what was going to be required of him at the end of the 2012 school year.  He didn’t seem so concerned about our little review and told me he wasn’t that worried about it.  It was a fairly typical response from an overly confident 15 year old, but he shared with me that it wasn’t that he didn’t care, but rather that he had passed all his TAKS tests in the past.  He had a reasonable point and a good history of doing fairly well in school with A’s and B’s.  I still tried to show him the released sample assessments to further expose him to the format of the test, but again he brushed it off and was less than enthusiastic to take a look.  In an effort to not be the “helicopter” parent, I backed off and decided to let him do it his way, on his own.  This was the case until about February when we started to see some of his writing assignments and noticed his writing still hadn’t improved much from the beginning of the year.  On Saturdays after he finished all of his regular homework, we would have him write. We didn’t go the route of having him write to a possible STAAR prompt, but rather held him to writing pieces of whatever he wanted with the intent of getting him to write and reflect on the revision process.  He needed help on the basics of thesis development, writing organization, sentence structure, and grammar.  This went on for about two months and we just hoped that our time working with him would help him with his writing.  So here’s how he did on the 2012 EOC Assessments:

 

World Geography

Algebra I

English I Reading

English I Writing

 Biology

I’m obviously ecstatic that he passed all of his EOCs for his freshman year, but I have a number of questions after reading these scores.

  1. On the Biology EOC I see two areas that he appeared to struggle in: Biological Processes and Systems and Mechanisms of Genetics.  Could this impact him on the Chemistry EOC he will have to take this year or the Physics EOC his junior year?

A: Probably not.  The high school science courses are very distinct from one another and the content student expectations that will be assessed on Chemistry EOC and Physics EOC will be different.  It is important to note that much of what he was assessed on the Biology EOC was built upon in middle school.  The Grade 8 Science STAAR would be a really good indicator on how he might do on the high school Biology EOC. 

 

  1. On the Algebra I EOC he struggled most with Quadratic and Nonlinear Functions.  Will this impact him on the Geometry EOC or Algebra II EOC he will have to take?

A: Probably. The math courses build upon knowledge learned in previous courses.  About 40% of what is learned in Algebra I is incorporated in Geometry. Algebra II is really Algebra I + more, so 100% of what he learned in Algebra I will be cycled into the Algebra II EOC. 

 

  1. He knocked World Geography out of the park with Level III Advanced Academic Performance, but will he do the same for World History or U.S. History?

A: Not necessarily.  The tested high school Social Studies courses have differing student expectations per course. Much of the same process skills may be assessed on the World Geography EOC, World History EOC, and U.S. History EOC, but not necessarily the same content. 

 

  1. On English I Reading he had difficulty on Understanding/Analysis Across Genres: Paired Short Answer Selections.  What does this indicate for English II Reading EOC and English III Reading EOC?

A: Although this section evaluates reading, it also evaluates writing.  The paired short answer selection requires the student to compare two genres of reading.  The student then has to write a short answer response to the selection.  He will see this again on the English II and III Reading EOCs.  It is important to note that last year was the first year freshmen students in Texas were assessed in a short answer response format.

 

  1. Just as we anticipated, he struggled with the English I Writing EOC in comparison to the other subject areas.  It looks like there is room for improvement in Written Composition, so will he be tested like this again on the English II EOC or III EOC?

A: While he needs improvement on Literary Composition portion, he will not be tested on it again.  He will be tested again sophomore year on Expository Composition along with the newly incorporated Persuasive Composition.  On the English III Writing EOC he will have to write another Persuasive Composition and an Analytical Composition.

 

**An interesting aspect for further discussion on a campus level is to examine student’s scale score outcomes in comparison to the projected 2016 Final Recommended Level II Satisfactory scale scores.

This particular entry is quite comprehensive in that we are able to see a glimpse of pre-administration, actual results, and questions that came to exist after reviewing the results. This is certainly not an exhaustive list of questions that students and families may have.  They may not even be questions that some students and families think or know to ask due to concentrating more on the “How do I read this?” and the more general “So what does this mean?” type of questions. If a question isn’t directly asked does that mean it should not be answered?  Regardless, it is in our best interest to think ahead and be prepared to address potential questions and to do so in a manner that is clear and effective.

 

  • What is this parent really telling us; what concerns can be heard?
  • Can you identify or empathize with the parent?
  • How well do you think ________________________.
  • How well do we consider those parents with additional challenges, such as language or education level barriers?
  • Can we be more purposeful in helping our communities learn and grow with us in today’s educational environment?

Reflections from an EOC Parent, Part 1

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:  Collections compiled from a team of Education Specialists

Educators in the state of Texas have undergone quite a few transitions as of late, none-the-least of which was the implementation of STAAR, the new state assessment program.  STAAR arrived with its own unique set of acronyms, characteristics, rules, guidelines, training modules, passing labels and much more. The implications from STAAR reach to graduation plans, course selections, grade point averages, instruction and even course grades (sooner or later).  Along with all of these new details surrounding the assessment itself, we can also add the need to learn new grade level or course TEKS; to revisit the TEKS to be sure our teaching is at the proper depth and complexity; to implement the ELPS and CCRS; to adjust to changes in Special Education, 504, local policy and perhaps even the most pressing: moving into a new classroom. No one is arguing that all of this comes easily; on the contrary, we readily admit our profession can seem overwhelming at times and changes can be clear as mud.  However, as professionals we approach these changes armed with our educational background, varied resources and profession-specific jargon.

Now, let’s consider our parents. 

As we throw around language such as allowable accommodations, EOC, AYP, TEKS, Readiness and Supporting standards, cumulative scores, scale scores, minimum scores, Advanced Performance and myriad other related terms, we sometimes even confuse ourselves. After all, it is similar to learning a new language.  With this in mind, we must be that much more diligent in helping our students and parents understand what is going on and what it means for THEM.

While it takes a village to raise a child, when it comes right down to it most parents, understandably so, are concerned with THEIR child.  Have you found yourself on the delivery side of an explanation sounding something like this yet?

“Well, your student met minimum… but no, that does not mean that they passed the EOC.  No, they are not required to retake the exam even though they did not pass the exam.  However, they may need to retake it in two years. Yes, meeting minimum can be beneficial because if they do well on the next two EOC exams and reach an appropriate cumulative scale score they will not have to retake this exam.  The scale score, however, for your eldest child is this value but your scale score for your next child is actually going to be this. “

Similar conversations will play out in many different ways for many different students and many different circumstances.  Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? We all have the best of intentions and are doing our very best to communicate relevant information in a timely fashion.   In doing so, however, are we certain we aren’t presenting based upon what WE know and the language WE use in our profession more than what may actually be received by those without the same background?

With this in mind, we wondered what the unique point of view of a 1st time EOC parent might be.  This InSight series, “Reflections from an EOC Parent,” aims to offer a glimpse into the minds of those outside of our daily jargon. This, in turn, may offer some insight to help us guide our communication as well as travel this path and learn together.  While all identifying names and institutions have been altered to protect the author’s anonymity, the pure reflection remains the same.  Additionally, the length of the article will vary as a result of the actual parent submissions. Here is the first of our parent reflections on STAAR.

“Initially, I didn’t think that the STAAR/EOC changes this year would impact my family any differently than state testing has in the past. However it did and upon reflection, we are left with question and concern.

First, let me share that my family is made up of three teenage kids. Our oldest is a girl and will be a senior for the year 12-13. We have two 15 year old twin boys who will be sophomores for the year 12-13. With this dynamic, we get to experience navigating school through our daughter two years prior to preparing our sons for what is to be expected. This has been to everyone’s benefit as our daughter is pretty responsible and motivated in school. She doesn’t need a lot of parental guidance to meet the demands of a teenage student. She is for the most part independent. The same cannot be stated for the boys. They are much more reliant on outside support from us as parents to make sure that they are meeting all of the school requirements to be a good student. Due to this pattern, we as parents try our best to anticipate the needs of the boys. Another note worth knowing is that my daughter and one of the twins do very well on the state assessments. However, the other twin struggles in his classes as well as on the state assessments. He skims by most of the state passing criteria in most subjects and has failed the state math (TAKS) every year since 5th grade. He finally passed the math TAKS his 8th grade year on the 2nd attempt.

This year was more difficult because we were not able to follow the lead that our daughter had experienced in STAAR/EOC/TAKS. Since the changes were made after her, we didn’t know what to expect, resulting in more confusion than usual and less ability to support the boys from a parental perspective. The school and district have provided information about the STAAR/EOC assessments on their web pages and through email. However, these are usually copy and paste narratives from TEA or links to the TEA information. This is not “parent friendly” reading in my opinion. When we ask our boys what they know, it is very difficult for them to share any information with us outside of… “I will be taking a test in Math.” They say they were told that the tests were going to be more difficult and they would have to solve more multi-step problems. As far as being able to help the boys study, we were at a disadvantage. We had no way to figure out what they needed to study and what they didn’t. Benchmark tests results were not shared with us (that may be because the boys didn’t share them) so we didn’t know where to spend any study focus. At this point we were left to trust that the school and the teachers were making sure things were in place at school. When I would call and visit to discuss extra tutoring opportunities for the twin that struggles and needed more, I was given dates for\ the week prior to the tests. Since we knew that he needed more than that, we had him tutored privately after school once a week for the entire 2nd semester. I had to come up with my own curriculum of study that I aligned to the TEKs that I knew he would be tested on.

Frustration grew as we quickly figured out that the delay in test results would not be available until the last week of school and in some subjects after school was out. This is extremely difficult for a family because it impacts summer plans that may be interrupted by the potential of summer school, test study sessions, or test retakes. Not to mention, we won’t know if a student who doesn’t pass the STAAR or EOC could be promoted to the next grade. All of this was left up in the air causing anxiety and stress for a child that already finds school frustrating. We received a letter in the mail June 10th with test results for all three kids. Our daughter and one twin did very well. The other twin PASSED the math test. YAY!!! However, he did not pass the reading or geography tests. He failed two out of four tests. That letter also gave us a study session date for each test he needed to retake as well as dates for the test retake. We are still waiting to hear if he passed those test on his second attempt.

My perspective as a parent is that if all three of my children where typical learners, we would have felt that the experience of STAAR/EOC change was not significant. However, we cannot say the same for my son who is a struggling learner. It has been confusing and frustrating trying to make sure we provide what he needs to succeed in school. Even with a twin who experiences everything at the same time as he does, we are still left with questions. There were many times when I would ask questions and the school would respond with, “This is all new and we are learning the processes as we go.” Don’t get me wrong, they are very kind and want to help my son, but it is difficult when even they are not informed very efficiently. The last conversation that I had with the school is that my son will in fact be promoted to sophomore status and will not have to retake courses. However, they also stated that this can only happen this year because the test is new and the district approved promotion of failures. It is anticipated that will change starting next year.

I plan to continue to learn as much as I can about the processes of EOC so that I can provide the support my children need. I want to be clear that I am an advocate of state standards and assessments. I think they are worthy and important. I think we are on our way to creating an assessment system that works, but we are not there yet. It seems to me that the system is working for the average and above average students, but our students at risk and struggling learners are at a real disadvantage. AYP is more informative in my opinion and I would like to see more emphasis and attention in that area.” (Parent reflection, received July, 2012)

  • What is this parent really telling us?
  • Can you identify or empathize with the parent?
  • How well do we consider those parents with additional challenges, such as language or education level barriers?
  • Can we be more purposeful in helping our communities learn and grow with us in today’s educational environment?

Understanding the Geometry STAAR EOC

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Emily Gray, Secondary Math Specialist

As we enter our second year of STAAR EOC exams, many of our mathematics students and teachers will be faced with the challenge of an End-of-Course exam in Geometry.  While the Algebra exams are relatively easy to understand (nearly all of the Algebra I TEKS have been tested before, and none of the Algebra II TEKS have ever been tested), the transition from the assessed Geometry TEKS on TAKS to the Geometry STAAR EOC is not so easy to understand.  Let’s look at a few facts to help illustrate this transition.

FACT: The Exit Level TAKS test has some Geometry questions on it.  The graphic below illustrates the percent of questions on the Exit Level TAKS that come from Grade 8, Algebra I, and Geometry TEKS.

The intention of the Exit Level TAKS test was to be a comprehensive exam over a broad range of topics.  The STAAR EOC exams, on the other hand, are designed to target the material from only one year of content in much greater depth.

FACT: The Exit Level TAKS test did not cover all of the Geometry TEKS. 

As you can see above, the Exit Level TAKS tested 51% of the Student Expectations (SEs) outlined in the Geometry TEKS, while on the STAAR EOC for Geometry 97% of the SEs will be eligible for testing.

FACT: On Exit Level TAKS, all SEs were created equal.  This usually translated to every SE eligible for testing being tested once, or occasionally twice.  This is not the case on any of the STAAR exams.  For STAAR, standards are designated as Readiness or Supporting.  For Geometry, 12 standards are deemed Readiness standards and will comprise 60-65% of the test (or 31-34 questions).  It seems likely then, that these standards will be assessed two, three, or even four times.  The remaining 24 Student Expectations eligible for testing will comprise 18-21 of the test questions.  Clearly, some of these standards will not be tested in a given year (although they may reappear the next year).

FACT: Knowing is half the battle!  You’ve taken the right first step by reading this article!  Want to know more?  Visit Region XIII’s STAAR Website (http://www.esc13.net/staar/) or TEA’s STAAR Website (http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/staar/) to get even more information.  Want more that’s Geometry-specific?  Start by taking the FREE one-hour online course through Region XIII titled “Geometry STAAR EOC – I Can’t Believe They’re Testing the Whole Thing”.   To register for this course, go to http://ecampus.esc13.net , login or sign-up for an account, and search for Workshop # FA1224480.  Click “Register” at the bottom of the page to get started!

 

 

 

STAAR Writing: A short story in 26 lines or less with an interesting plot and engaging characters…. REALLY??

Monday, February 13th, 2012

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

A very short, short story by Ernest Hemingway

I have a 9th grader (a boy no less)!  While some boys may enjoy “the inner music that words make,” mine does not.  So when I learned that he would have to write a short story, with an interesting plot and engaging characters in 26 LINES OR LESS I panicked!  I began looking for mentor text that would support his STAAR endeavors!  I didn’t find any short stories in textbooks; well, not short stories that were less than 26 lines.  I found lots of excerpts, but no mentor texts.  Then I turned to the ‘un-academic’ database…..GOOGLE.  That’s where I found my answer:  micro-fiction or flash-fiction. I wasn’t concerned about whether it is called micro or flash fiction; I was just thrilled that there was a genre out there that modeled for my son (and his other 9th grade counterparts) of what they were supposed to write!

Flash fiction is a genre of short story writing that presents “a singular moment, a slice of life, a sketch” in 55 to 1000 lines.   In an information age of Twitter and hyperlinks, flash fiction is a way to engage our reluctant students in the elements of short story writing.  Even if we take the Hemingway story as an example of flash-flash fiction, we can see that there are characters (some implied), there’s a plot, there’s conflict—in just 6 words! Imagine the fun kids could have with 50 to 900 more?!

At the latest TCTELA conference, Harvey Daniels used an example of flash fiction for literature circles.  He examined a work titled “Waiting,” by Peggy McNally that came from Jerome Stern’s Micro Fiction.  Let’s examine how many short story elements McNally used in just 255 mere words:

[click sample for a larger view]

So, is writing a fully developed short story in 26 lines (or less) a bit daunting?  YES!!!  But it is comforting that this is neither a new task nor a new genre.  It’s a genre that is published and, therefore, there are mentor texts for my son to digest.  On June 22, ESC XIII will offer a workshop on the topic of short story writing with David Rice, a world-renowned author (workshop # SU1223130).  He will share strategies that will prepare students for the STAAR literary composition.   Until then, you may want to access some of these resources:

Books Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Fifty Really Short Stories, edited by Jerome SternFlash Fiction Forward, edited by James Thomas and Robert ShapardSudden Fiction: American Short Stories, edited by Robert Shapard and James ThomasField Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, edited by Tara L. Masih
Websites http://www.squidoo.com/flashfictionforeveryonehttp://giddysap.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/santa-thumb/http://www.flashfictiononline.com/http://lilt.ilstu.edu/rlbroad/teaching/studentpubs/writegooder/park.pdf

 

References

Masih, T.L. Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. Brookline: The Rose Metal Press, 2009.

Stern, Jerome, ed. Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Fifty Really Short Stories. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.

Thomas, James, and Robert Shapard. Flash Fiction Forward. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. 

STAAR ACCOMMODATIONS FOR STUDENTS WITH DYSLEXIA: STUDENT – CENTERED

Monday, December 12th, 2011

The “Dyslexia Bundled Accommodations” will no longer be a term applicable to STAAR administration. Instead,  students with dyslexia, dyslexia characteristics, and reading difficulties may be eligible for a wide range of accommodations on all content areas of the STAAR and STAAR End of Course assessments.  Considering the variability in the severity of difficulty students have with basic reading skills and test performance in all grades, and who may or may not be identified with dyslexia, this change in TEA policy makes sense.  TEA continues to engage in the process of establishing the most appropriate testing accommodation policies for students with dyslexia, but we can be relatively confident of the process required for students to access 2012 STAAR Accommodations.   First and foremost, the student must use the accommodations routinely in classroom or testing situations.  The accommodation decisions and plans will be made and documented by:

  • an RtI or Student Support Team if the student has been identified as dyslexic (but does not receive 504 or special education services),
  • a Section 504 Committee, if the student has dyslexia or has evidence of a reading difficulty as determined by a Section 504 committee (documented within an Individualized Accommodation Plan), or
  • an ARD Committee, if the student is reading disabled with dyslexic characteristics or has evidence of a reading difficulty (documented within an Individualized Educational Plan).

Additionally, LPAC committees/members are required to participate in any of these committees’ decision-making processes when accommodation decisions are being made for students who are ELL and who have disabilities.

Students meeting the eligibility criteria as determined by any of these three committees may have access to oral administration of question and answer choices for the reading passages (no more reading of proper nouns, and NEVER oral reading of passages).  These accommodations on the STAAR Reading test have now been extended to include students taking STAAR English I, II, and III assessments.   Oral Administration of test question and answer choices (including reading of tables, graphs, etc.) in the subject areas of Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies is also an allowable accommodation for eligible students with dyslexia.  For STAAR Writing in 4th, 7th, and English I-III, writing prompts ONLY may be read aloud to eligible dyslexic students.  Documentation for these Type 2 accommodations should be maintained within the student’s cumulative folder, and Type 2 accommodations will also need to be documented on the student’s STAAR test forms.  Additionally, the level of reading support also needs to be determined and documented on the student’s IAP or IEP as either:

  1. reading parts of the question and answer choices at student request, or
  2. reading all question and answer choices throughout the test section.

Reminder:  It is permissible to provide ANY 3rd grade student periodic reading assistance on the Mathematics section of the STAAR. This is not considered to be an accommodation.  Should the 3rd grade student need the Mathematics question and answer choices read in their entirety, this level of accommodation would be considered a Type 2 Accommodation and should be documented as such on the student’s test form.

The appropriate committee may also decide that the student needs extended time, allowable until the end of the school day.  Current verbal guidance from TEA (although not final or posted on the Accommodations Triangle) states that extended time for a 2nd day of administration will require an Accommodation Request Form and only in extreme cases of need will there be approval.

For specific student eligibility criteria and further accommodation guidelines for calculator use, math manipulatives, dictionary use, and supplemental aids, click on the live links on TEA’s Accommodations Triangle posted at the following web address:

 http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/accommodations/staar-telpas/   

The Optional Test Administration Procedures and Materials document link which specifies allowable accommodations for all students has currently been removed from the above Accommodations Resource webpage and is being revised.  One possible revision will be that small group or individualized test administration will not be an allowable accommodation for all students, but will be a Type 2 Accommodation needing a committee’s decision and documentation for students meeting specific eligibility criteria.   Keep abreast of TEA updates by continuing to access the above Accommodations Resource webpage.

STAAR Dyslexia Accommodations Nov 2011

Making Connections: Points of Instructional Integration and Skill Building

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Our goal as educators is that our students grow into productive citizens with a wealth of skills to draw from. We want to foster learning so that students are critical thinkers and problem solvers who are able to make connections and apply their learning in new and novel situations. The TEKS call for critical thinking, problem solving, and making connections. STAAR calls for critical thinking, problem solving, and making connections. Life calls for critical thinking, problem solving, and making connections.  This necessitates that our instruction include and build critical thinking, problem solving, and making opportunities for students to make connections.

In modern education, we are under more and more time constraints with fewer resources. We often feel we are trying to do it all and it seems there just is not enough time. It is easy at times  to become focused on the pure content within our grade level or subject matter, and forget that the skills we wish to build are transferrable skills that apply to all content and simply may look slightly different based upon the context.

As a result, we sometimes find ourselves and our lessons looking somewhat like a solved Rubik’s cube. Although within this particular game, getting all colors onto one side and isolated from the rest of the colors indicates you have “solved” the puzzle; in education this represents ideas, skills, and learning in isolation.

We want students to be able to operate within all of the colors and, in fact, NEED students to be able to operate in a more integrated fashion for STAAR and beyond.

Consider the term interdependence for a moment. What does it mean?

A dictionary definition would be “a relation between its members such that each is mutually dependent on the others.”  For students understanding content and their world, such a definition means nothing and holds little relevance. We learn about interdependence within Science. In fact, this is a key concept in science.  For example, the entire understanding of food chains relates to this idea among many others. Students may build an understanding of this vocabulary word within the Science context and examples, but can they apply it outside of these specifics?

  •  What might “interdependence” look like within Language Arts?

Characters are often interdependent. 

  • What might “interdependence” look like within Social Studies?

Countries in time of war and peace are interdependent upon each other. Economic systems, global economics, are interdependent upon one another.         

  • What might “interdependence” look like within Math?

Concepts such as part/part/whole and balanced equations include ideas of dependence and interdependence.

Would it be better to build on the idea in its entirety with multiple examples in order to assure students can transfer and apply knowledge or would it be best to know this term simply through a dictionary definition, a specific example such as a food chain, or within a specific content? Even if the word is introduced as a new vocabulary term in science, we want and need students to have word study skills that might enable them to determine what this unfamiliar word means, especially within multiple contexts.

That is one specific example with the intention of planting the seed for making connections and continuing learning throughout the day rather than in isolated periods of time or content.

Aligning TEKS to TEKS, side by side can be a daunting process when one considers the number of standards Texas has and how little time there is within a given day.  However, there are a few manageable ideas to begin to take the first small step(s) toward integrated learning throughout the day.  By doing so educators are able to “shave” time off of discreet stand-alone lessons and students are able to see connections and apply their learning across content and contexts.  These processes have the potential to increase efficiency and effectiveness by capitalizing what already exists within the TEKS and conceptual connections.

Within lesson design, we must look for opportunities to make connections and build skills across content.

1. Look across content units within the same time period: big ideas/concepts.

Are there opportunities for direct and explicit support or purposeful awareness or both?  For example, in 3rd grade Science your landforms unit may be within the same time frame as the Social Studies unit on landforms.  This is direct explicit support.  Or perhaps you teach English in 7th grade and the Texas History class covers political change in Texas as a result of the Civil War.  Through resource choice, instruction can support purposeful awareness and support the overall connections and learning associated with the Texas political climate without actually directly teaching the Social Studies TEKS within the English classroom.

2. Focus on transferrable skills across content and context:  TEKS skills strands

Every content has a skills strand, or skills-based student expectations, embedded within the course TEKS.  These are the very skills needed to approach and access content in order to make connections and increase comprehension.  Focusing on the skills across the course of the day rather than “period to period,” regardless of the content, builds practice and repetition and therefore increases skill levels.  For example, if we consider the 3rd grade TEKS and the skills embedded, we can identify basic skill categories, including data collection, analysis, inferring, forming conclusions, and problem-solving.   Similar skills found within these and other categories can be found in Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Health, and Technology Applications.  Learning effective data collection across content areas allows the students to see the skill applied within different contexts and in new and novel situations, resulting in deeper and broader understanding.

In the end it is the student who ultimately benefits from this direct explicit support and purposeful awareness.  We know the brain is wired for making connections.  By asking where there are opportunities to make connections and build skills during the lesson design process, we make more efficient use of our time while increasing the overall effectiveness of our instruction.

Appraisals and Walkthroughs: Considertions for This Point in the Year

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Now that we have had a great start to our school year, what have you been doing for your teachers and their appraisals?  At this point you and the other appraisers should have completed multiple walkthroughs for every teacher on campus.  Formal appraisals should be well underway, along with help for your teachers who have been identified as needing more assistance.  As the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) approaches, what do you need to look for in the classroom to insure success?

  • Look for student engagement.  Are students authentically engaged, compliant, or not engaged in the lesson?  Know what each level of engagement looks like before entering the classroom.
  • Listen to the questioning and discussions in the classroom.  Are high level questions and answers routinely being use by both teacher and students? Are students justifying their responses? Are teachers giving support for use of academic language?  (For example, are they providing sentence stems such as “The most important thing about _____ is_____ because _________.” Or “_________ is not an example of ___________ because it doesn’t have ________.”)
  • What evidence do you see of adjustment to instruction based on what
  • When you view weekly lesson plans, are they aligned with the state standards, and are you seeing that same alignment in the classroom instruction?
  • Do the teachers know what you are looking for in the classroom?  Make sure they know up front, and then let them know when you are and aren’t seeing it.

Of course, just because the formal appraisal has been completed, your support for the teachers is not finished.  Looking for best practices by means of consistent walkthroughs in every classroom on campus will occur throughout the school year.