Posts Tagged ‘STAAR’

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

Laura Lee Stroud
Elementary ELAR Specialist


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
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.

Maintaining Student Engagement in Math

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Authors: Virginia Keasler and Mary Headley, Education Specialists: Mathematics

The STAAR test is over, the students are trying to shut down, and field trips and awards ceremonies are on the horizon. How do I engage my students so that learning continues?

What do students really say about what engages them? A recent article published in Edutopia in February of 2015, “Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement,” addressed this question.  220 students were asked, “What engages students?” The responses received seemed to fall under ten categories representing recurring themes.

  • Working with peers
  • Working with technology
  • Connecting the real world to the work we do/project-based learning
  • Teachers should clearly love what they do
  • Get me out of my seat
  • Bring in visuals
  • Student choice
  • Understand your clients – the kids
  • Mix it up!
  • Teachers should show their human side

Mathematics can be an intimidating subject for students; however, with the right math teaching strategies, educators can engage students in the subject matter and help them to better understand complicated concepts.

Now is the time to try a few new strategies pertaining to the students’ list above.

Working with peers has the potential to create students who are highly motivated and have higher levels of participation. The following short video from the Teaching Channel showcases an example of peer teaching:

While the use of concrete manipulatives is a critical component of math instruction, virtual manipulatives add to the learning experience. One technology resource for the math classroom is the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (NLVM). Virtual manipulatives give students prompts, feedback, and answers to problems while working on problems lets the students incorporate more self-exploration. As always, you will want lead with the TEKS as you select manipulatives with which students will master content.

There are many ways to get students out of their seats. One of the strategies you may not have heard of is called Brain Breaks. Brain Breaks are a great way to re-energize your students to get their blood pumping and their brains re-charged for learning. The following websites have information and/or brain breaks in action:

Allowing students to make choices for their learning is important in a math classroom. Choice boards allow for student engagement and are great for differentiation. A choice board is a tool that ensures students incorporate a range of multiple intelligences, and/or learning preferences.

Some of the benefits of choice boards include:

  • Allowing students more freedom with a choice of activities
  • Allowing students to work at their own pace
  • Promoting independence and responsibility
  • Promoting a more positive behavior

To explore choice boards visit:

It is important to keep students engaged in their learning process. Hopefully, these strategies will help you maintain student engagement after the STAAR test and give you several ideas to take forward into the new school year.



Heather Wolpert-Gawron. (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2015, from

A New Math STAAR

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Author: Fredric Noriega

Texas is set to implement the revised math standards during the 2014-2015 school year for grades kindergarten through 8. High school math teachers will implement new math standards in their courses for the following year, 2015-16. Along with the implementation of the new math standards we are going to see a very different Math STAAR than we had originally anticipated. Depending on the grade level, some of these changes are either a blessing or a curse. Here are the changes we can expect:

All new TEKS are fair game

TEA originally made the decision to only assess the “overlapping” TEKS during the first year of implementation. In other words, only those concepts and skills that could be found in both the current and revised TEKS would be assessed. This was a relief for many math teachers, especially those grade levels that are seeing a lot of new material in their standards. Many teachers, campuses and districts decided that it would be in the best interest of the students to teach material that was new  ̶  the non-overlapping standards  ̶  after the STAAR test next spring. This way students could focus on the “overlap” or assessed material and be well-prepared for the STAAR test. TEA recently announced (during the week of Feb. 17, 2014) that the STAAR exam during the first year of new TEKS implementation will focus solely on the revised standards, regardless of whether or not the content is new to the grade level. This decision was based on the fact that in certain grades there is not enough overlap between the current and new standards to use for creating an assessment. Those teachers that had planned to focus on teaching the new content after STAAR will now have to adjust their plan since students will see assessment questions based on those standards. Consider the revised math standard 5.3K: add and subtract positive rational numbers fluently. A current 4th grade student is learning how to add and subtract whole numbers. In 5th grade they will need to learn how to add/subtract fractions with common and uncommon denominators. This is a very big leap in content for students, and possibly even for the teacher.

New Testing Format

Since all new standards will be eligible on the STAAR assessment we also have new resources. TEA has made the following available:

  • Assessed Curriculum Documents. These documents identify the new Reporting Categories. New Supporting and Readiness standards are identified as well as which standards are eligible for testing.
  • Blueprints. These documents give an at-a-glance look at the reporting categories including supporting and readiness standards.  They also act as a guide in determining how many STAAR questions can be expected from each reporting category.
  • Reference Materials. These documents include formulas and conversion tables that students will be able to use on the STAAR exam.

All of these documents can be found by visiting the TEA webpage at

Calculators are required on the 8th grade STAAR

The new 8th grade standards place a strong emphasis on developing algebraic skills and, because of this, TEA has decided that students will require the use of a calculator. Many middle school campuses may only have one set of graphing calculators per math teacher, but that may not be enough to offer 1:1 calculators during testing. Some schools are planning to borrow calculators from the local high school, while other schools and districts are trying to find money in their budgets to purchase more calculators.  Another option currently under pilot for 8th grade math students for the 2014-2015 school year is to use a graphing calculator app on a tablet or non-smart phone mobile device.

Algebra 2 EOC is back

The Algebra 2 STAAR EOC assessment is going to return during the 2014-2015 school year; however, TEA is making the assessment optional; the results are only going to be used to determine college academic readiness and will not be used for accountability purposes. Note: TEA has made the assessment optional for students taking Algebra 2; however, a district could make the decision to require Algebra 2 students to take the exam.


The information here was shared by TEA at the Spring TASM meeting on Feb. 21, 2014.

Foundations for Fractions in the Primary Grades

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Author: Fredric Noriega, Secondary Mathematics Specialist

Tags: Math, fractions, STAAR

One math concept that is often feared by both students and teachers is fractions. Everything about fractions seems to be difficult: how to write a fraction, reduce a fraction, compare fractions and perform operations with fractions.  These are just a few of the skills that students will need to learn and demonstrate mastery of on the STAAR assessment from Grades 3-8 and Algebra 1.

With the implementation of the revised standards in mathematics, beginning with the 2014-2015 academic year, students across Texas will begin to work with fractions earlier and at a more rigorous level than with our current standards. In order to set up students for success, instructors in the early grades need to ensure that they use concrete and visual models to teach this very abstract concept.  Teachers need to create a bridge for their students. This will help students move from concrete models of fractions to visual models, and in the later grades, students will be able to work with more abstract fraction concepts.

At times educators might be resistant to the idea of having students use manipulatives in the classroom; “They can’t use manipulatives on the test” is a common statement. This is true, but if teachers can build a foundation of fractions using concrete objects they can then transition students into visual representations of fractions. Students are able to create and draw their own visual models on assessments. To better support students, teachers can expose them to a variety of concrete and pictorial models; this way a student can select and use the model(s) that they understand.

Below are examples of linear models that can be used to model fractions. Students can begin by using Cuisenaire® Rods (concrete model); with these students can easily see that a whole is being partitioned into equal parts. Students can also use a strip diagram and a number line to model fractions.


Below are 3 examples of using the area model to represent fractions. The circle model is a very popular visual to use when teaching students fractions. In addition to the circle model, students should also be able to model a fraction using the grid model and paper folding.



Teachers should also expose their students to set models. Set models are different from length and area models. A set model contains a set of objects, and the whole is the total number of objects in the set. When working with students, it is important to emphasize that the set of counters is considered 1 whole and not 8, as in the example below.



By using models and visuals to create a strong foundation of mathematics, students will be more prepared to build on their knowledge of fractions and be able to compare fractions, generate equivalent fractions, and perform operations with fractions.

These diagrams were taken from “Click on TEKS: A simple approach to understanding the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills- Third Grade”. The resource can be found by visiting

Why Did the Poet Do That?—The Case for Teaching Author’s Craft

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Authors: Janet Hester and Lenicia Gordon, Literacy Specialists

We know that we are growing beyond the old classroom paradigm of drilling printed lists of terminology and moving toward providing authentic reading and writing experiences for our students.  Contemporary research affirms the need for students to be interested in their reading and writing tasks. Student choice of reading text is critical for engagement. An authentic purpose for reading is paramount. An onus to write and a responsibility to communicate will promote true participation in learning the skills of writing.  Students are no longer interested in jumping through hoops. But they will create their own diversions—if we could only harness their individual interests.

Yes, we all agree on the need for authenticity and student ownership of knowledge. But then it seems TEKS and STAAR mandates box us in—how can we teach the power and art of language when we are beholden to the State of Texas?


TEA Agrees with Best Practices

It turns out that our mandates and best practice are not far apart at all. In fact, if we only looked closely at our state curriculum and assessments, took a deep breath, believed in our students’ ability, took another deep breath, and trusted that daily reading and writing would improve their language skills, the kids might just be all right.


TEKS Ask Students to Read Like Writers




The TEKS reveal that students should be reading like writers and writing like—well—true writers.

For example, the student expectations in poetry ask students to “analyze how poets use sound effect to reinforce meaning” and “analyze the importance of graphical elements on the meaning of a poem” in the 5th and 7th grade, respectively. Now, harkening to those old classrooms, it would be tempting as a teacher to get caught up in the technical definitions of “sound effects” or “graphical elements”: to create a vocabulary list of these terms, drill our students, and arrest student learning at a Depth of Knowledge Level 1 or a Bloom’s Category of Remembering.

Yet, we are charged with teaching more than the terms, and we must extend student learning to include analyzing the effect of the terms. We should be teaching students the power of words and asking our students to analyze all the trouble a writer goes through to communicate.


STAAR Asks Students to Read Like Writers

Beyond the language of the TEKS themselves, released STAAR reading items from 2011 and 2013 elucidate this responsibility.

See an example of a 2013 English I released question:


A student answering this question correctly needn’t recite all the technical information she knows about analogies in poems; she must instead be familiar with interpreting poetic meaning. This item is dual-coded as 3/Fig.19(B), or as the overarching Knowledge and Skills statement of poetry (3) and the reading comprehension skill Figure 19(B). The skills assessed, according to the dual-coding, are to “make inferences . . . about the . . . elements of poetry” and “make complex inferences about text,” from the poetry Knowledge and Skills statement and  Figure 19(B) comprehension standard. For this question in particular, making inferences about the elements of poetry means interpreting what the analogy means in the context of the poem—reading the poem as a poet and determining the author’s intent of the analogy (not the technical terminology of “analogy”).




Here’s another example from the Grade 7 2013 Released items:



Again, the question does not assess the level of understanding of the term, imagery, but of the term’s use. It assumes understanding of the term itself. This question is dual-coded as well, as 8/Fig. 19 (D), or the overarching Knowledge and Skills statement of Sensory Language (8) and the reading comprehension skill, Figure 19(D). The skills assessed, according to the dual-coding, are to “make inferences . . . about how an author’s sensory language creates imagery in literary text” and “make complex inferences about text.”   Essentially, to answer this question, students must read poetic language and determine the intended purpose of the imagery used.  Students should be reading poems and learning how to ask themselves this question, again and again, “Why did the writer do that?”  Students should be reading like poets. In other words, in order to understand why poets and authors do what they do, students must be charged with making these same types of deliberate decisions in their own writing…..


The Learning Model—Reading and Writing Like Writers

So, how does a student get comfortable with reading poetry like a poet? Not by memorizing terms. We’ve written about this process before, and we will do so again. Jeff Anderson has written extensively in 10 Things Every Writer Should Know about flooding students with text so that they might inductively learn author’s craft and strategies.

  1. Teachers should flood students with text by exposing them to massive classroom libraries.  Newspapers.  Magazines and blogs. Students should be reading text of their choice. There should be so much text, kids have no option but to find that book about bulldogs—their own personal passion—and settle down to read.
  2. After reading independently, teachers should pull powerful mentor texts and engage the class in reading and discover for themselves the characteristics of the genre. There should be a controlled groundswell of Noticing these characteristics. The teacher should scribe these noticings on class anchor charts for easy reference throughout the year.
  3. Then, the teacher should divert the groundswell by creating opportunities for partner, small group and class discussion. By Interacting, students should discover the text features of expository text, and realize that they serve a function for the reader. The writer placed them there on purpose.
  4. The students should then Name those characteristics as the academic term and as their own definition.
  5. Teachers should provide students with opportunities to Experiment using those characteristics in their own writing and revision processes.
  6. Reflecting and metacognition—students should reflect upon the knowledge they learned and how it fits into their own schema. Allowing time for reflection allows students to make the learning about reading and writing their own.

This method may be used over and over again, so that students develop a habit of reading and noticing, become experts at interacting with the text, develop an intuition for naming strategies they encounter, and, finally, become proficient in employing these strategies as a writer of the genre.  See the diagram below.




To understand author’s craft in any genre, students must see examples of the genre, discover their own examples, and ask the question over and over, “Why did the writer do that?”  Ultimately, writing their own arguments, explanations, and poetry worthy of interpretation will extend the learning.

As it turns out, the TEKS and STAAR’s interpretations of the TEKS call for students to be able to interpret the effect of writers using their tools. And STAAR assesses this zealously, with the help of the dual-coding of Knowledge and Skills statements and Figure 19.  This is a good thing. It means we do not have to teach static lists of terms. The state charges us with teaching authentic reading and writing. How fortunate, because this is precisely what is best for students.

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, , 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:  when making and documenting accommodation decisions within an RtI, 504, or ARD committee meeting.

It’s Your Year, World History!

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Author: Rachel Hernandez – Social Studies Education Specialist

Tags: World History, Social Studies, STAAR

According to the 2012 STAAR Summary Reports released by TEA, 28,625 students took the World History End-of-Course assessment last year.  Since there is no set rule on how schools establish their course matriculation in Social Studies, all End-of-Course tests were operational in May of 2012.  Most schools in Texas have freshmen starting in World Geography, World History sophomore year, U.S. History junior year, and Government/Economics rounding out senior year.  As expected, World Geography accounted for the largest amount of Social Studies test takers with 320,966 students.  Now that last year’s freshmen have the World Geography End-of-Course under their belt, 2013 is the true year for World History.  Preparation is in order for World History teachers and students.

Now that we are refocused with a few cheerful thoughts, let’s take a look at what we know.  With the 2010 Social Studies TEKS adoption, the World History Studies course was restructured into six time periods that serve as the framework and organization: 8000 BC-500 BC (Development of River Valley Civilizations); 500 BC-AD 600 (Classical Era); 600-1450 (Post-Classical Era); 1450-1750 (Connecting Hemispheres); 1750-1914 (Age of Revolutions); and 1914-Present (20th Century to the Present).  Additionally, the World History course has changed in the number of historical individuals.  The course went from 22 historical individuals in the old standards to 50 individuals in the 2010 standards. Groups such as Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and Chinese student protestors in Tiananmen Square were also added.

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 ( or TEA’s STAAR Website ( 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 , 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



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.