Posts Tagged ‘STAAR’

Concise and Precise: Important Tips for STAAR Writing

Monday, December 12th, 2011

 

What do Maurice Sendak, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner have in common? None of them made their point in 26 lines. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And that’s what Texas students will be expected to do on STAAR.  We can, as Sendak said in Where the Wild Things Are, “Let the wild rumpus start!”  Or we can create purposeful, thoughtful assignments that allow our students to showcase their writing talents.

Before we start talking about instruction, let’s begin with the end in mind.  We know that students will be required to write within specific genres for each grade level. We know rubrics are available to us at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/staar/writing/.

Genres for STAAR Writing

Grade 4 Personal Narrative Expository
Grade 7 Personal Narrative with extension Expository
English I Expository Literary
English II Expository Persuasive
English III Persuasive Analytical

Thanks to Victoria Young, Director of Reading, Writing, and Social Studies Assessments at the Texas Education Agency, we know about what characterizes the field test papers.

Characteristics of Score Point 3 or  4 Papers Characteristics of Score Point 1 or 2 Papers
  • Good form/purpose match
  • Introduction and conclusion short but effective
  • Explicit thesis
  • Sustained focus
  • Economical use of space – tight, specific, logical development; no wasted words
  • Specific use of language and appropriate tone for purpose
  • Well crafted
  • Narrow and deep focus
  • Clear beginning, middle and end
  • Strong conventions

 

 

  • Wrong form for purpose (e.g., writing a story in response to expository prompt)
  • Weak, evolving, or non-existent thesis
  • BIGGEST PROBLEM: Wasted space
    • Repetition
    • Wordiness
    • Extraneous details of examples
    • Looping/meandering
    • Meaningless introductions and/or conclusion
  • General/vague use of language or inappropriate  tone for purpose
  • Poorly crafted
  • Weak conventions

 

 

(Presented at the Texas Assessment Conference, December, 2011)

So what does this mean for classroom instruction? We must teach our students to write concisely and precisely, including nothing superfluous and stating things clearly. This is what the TEKS require. We can teach much through comparison and contrast.  Consider the following.

Moving  from Exploding the Moment to Concise and Precise

Blah sentence

Explode the Moment

Precise but concise

He walked through the door. He grasped the cold doorknob and turned it slowly to the right.  He pushed the door inward.  The hinges squeaked and cold air rushed past the opening door.  The room was dark.  His eyes darted to the right.  Nothing.  He pushed the door open a little farther, and slowly moved his right foot into the room.  His shoe creaked a bit as it hit the polished hardwood floor. He crept through the door, hoping to be as quiet as a mouse.
I walked into the kitchen and saw my mother holding a skateboard. Upon opening the gate to our backyard I wondered if there was a surprise in store for me.  My hands began to sweat with anticipation as crossed the yard to the enclosed patio.  I had to remind myself that it wasn’t the gift, but the thought that counted as I ran into the kitchen.  The door slammed behind me as I was greeted by the sweet smell of chocolate cake and my mother.  She was beaming as she held out my gift: the red skateboard – the red skateboard I had pointed out to my mother in the toy store window! As I darted into the kitchen to grab a snack, I was amazed when my mother handed me the skateboard of my dreams.
We have more homework in middle school than we did in elementary school. In middle school we have way more homework!  I do more homework now than I ever have.  I have at least two hours every night.  In elementary school, there was no homework.  What a change!  Running around the sunny playground during recess with my blond best friend worked just fine for me. Now I slave away on homework like a dog.  Who ever invented it is someone who I’d like to have a word with. I recall elementary school as an idyllic time where my biggest worry was who I was going to play with at recess.  Now that I am in middle school, I worry about getting all my homework done.

(Definitions and antonyms from http://www.merriam-webster.com/.)

Students who are able to contrast Explode the Moment with precise and concise writing and who are able to identify from their own reading examples and non-examples of concise and precise writing are better to able to write their own effective pieces.

Have you ever considered using Twitter to help students narrow down their writing? The 140 character limit per tweet is made for concise and precise writing! Many “performance artists” emulate different writers’ styles – a good step toward readiness for writing an analytical essay.

@InTheGreenLight: “Fatigue was a drug as well as a poison.”  (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

@bcollinspoetry:  “I am a lake, my poem is an empty boat, and my life is the breeze that blows through the whole scene.”

For more on this phenomenon go to http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2011/08/30/139645894/when-dead-writers-tweet-the-art-of-concise-imitation.

If you like the idea of using Twitter, but want a more closed environment, consider using TodaysMeet (http://todaysmeet.com/). Like Twitter, there is a 140 character limit per post; unlike Twitter it’s a controlled room. You set up the room and send the link to those you want to include. You can also set how long you want the room to be available (as short as 2 hours or as long as one year). Try it now by accessing http://todaysmeet.com/concise.

There are many other tools and approaches for teaching students to write concisely and precisely. Careful planning and revision have always been critical to any piece of good writing.  It’s something that we’re teaching already, as required by our standards. Being able to write concisely and precisely within the space of 26 lines makes these skills even more critical. When we ensure that our students master the standards, we ensure that they are world ready and STAAR ready.

 

Additional Resources

http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/quizzes/wordy_quiz.htm Writing concise sentences: examples of wordy sentences. You can enter your more concise  revision and then you also see a suggested concise version of each sentence.

http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/quizzes/nova/nova8.htm Eliminating wordiness: examples of wordy sentences, and one way each might be fixed.

http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/how-to-write-clear-sentences.aspx  Writing concisely. Getting rid of the dead wood.

 

http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/28/less-is-more-using-social-media-to-inspire-concise-writing/ More on using social media.

 

http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/tac/. Texas Assessment Conference presentations are posted here.

 

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.

Using Released Test Items to Design Justified Lists and Card Sorts for Science

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Assessment seems to be all anyone is talking about in education these days.  Well, okay, a few people might have mentioned school financing, but STAAR, EOC, Reference Documents (the documents previously known as formula charts), and the just-released STAAR sample items… oh you hadn’t heard about those?  Yes, they were released by TEA on September 30, 2011, and can be found online.  And, since I know teachers in tested grades are going to want to look at those, go ahead.  Visit http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/staar/ and look them over, then come back and finish this article in which I am going to give suggestions on utilizing standardized questions to design formative assessment experiences which can be integrated into student notebooks.

Standardized assessments serve a purpose in that they help to judge the effectiveness of different curricula and approaches to instruction, districts, and even teachers; but the results often inform us as to which TEKS a group of students or even an individual student have not mastered without providing insight as to what they do not understand or why.  In order to understand students’ thought processes, assessments must be written that allow for open-ended response, problem solving steps to be shown, and for students to be forced to confront common misconceptions side-by-side with the scientifically- based explanation of a phenomena and decide which explanation they hold to be true.  When these types of assessments are conducted throughout the learning process for the benefit of both teacher and student, then we call them formative assessments.  Renowned National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) author Page Keeley in her book Science Formative Assessment: 75 Practical Strategies for Linking Assessment, Instruction, and Learning, defines formative assessment as “assessment for learning” (Keeley, 2008).  Summative exams such as STAAR are considered to be assessments of learning in that they do not provide learning opportunities to students.  Both types of assessments may provide information that informs curriculum and instruction, but it is how the assessments impact a student that is the key.  In her book Keeley provides 75 Formative Assessment Classroom Techniques (FACTs).   Two types I have chosen to focus on are justified lists and card sorts.

Justified List

One type of formative assessment is the justified list, in which students are presented with a question such as, “Which of the following are producers?” and then a list that might include, “oak tree, mushroom, grass, algae, duckweed, corn, and dog.”  Students are tasked with checking off those things on the list that are considered producers and then asked to, “Write the rule by which you decided if something is a producer or not.”  We could also ask students to write three characteristics they use to determine if something is a producer.  The important task here is that students are examining their thinking about what are examples and non-examples and then explaining and justifying the characteristics they used.  The example I described using producers would be a great formative assessment to go along with TEKS 5.9(B) which is the TEKS assessed in question number 12 of the 2011 5th grade released questions.  Students should recognize and explain that they did not choose a mushroom because it breaks down nutrients from decaying organisms and thus cannot serve as the basis of a food chain. A chemistry example (see question number 1 of the 2011 Chemistry released questions) might be, “Which of the following are considered extensive properties?”

Justified lists can be used as pre-assessments (for example, a biology teacher might ask about producers before beginning a lesson on food webs) or to assess learning after the explanation phase of instruction (as would be the case when a 5th grade teacher uses the producer list).  They can be conducted in tandem with a think, pair, share to allow students to discuss and refine their ideas or they can be integrated into a unit assessment in which case the list should include some new examples the students might not have previously been confronted with.

Integrating justified lists into science notebooks is easy.  The question, justified list and prompt can be made to fit on half a sheet of paper which students can glue or tape into their notebook at the top so the paper can be lifted up and the rule which the student used and their justification can then be written directly on the notebook paper.

In addition to Science Formative Assessment, Keeley has written a series of books entitled Uncovering Student Ideas is Science.  All are available through NSTA at http://www.nsta.org/store/.  An example chapter from one of Keeley’s probe books that includes a justified list can be found online at http://www.nsta.org/store/product_detail.aspx?id=10.2505/9780873552554.  Scroll down just a bit under details and click on the link next to Read Inside.

Card Sort

Another type of formative assessment is a card sort. Card sorts are designed in such a way that students sort a set of cards with either terms or pictures on them into two or more categories.  For example, during an 8th grade lesson utilizing the periodic table students might sort terms such as metallic appearance, non-metal, semiconductors, conductors, non-conductors, etc. onto an outline of the periodic table that has been divided into non-metals, metals, and metalloids such as that seen in the 8th grade 2011 Released Question number 3.  The cards that students sort could also include the symbols or names of some elements they are familiar with and pictures of some of the more common elements.

To really make students think, make the number of cards unequal in each category.  For example have 7 cards belong under non-metals, while only 6 belong under metals.  Another way of making the activity more rigorous is to include cards that will not be used.  When I taught Biology I included two cards that said “Does Not Contain DNA” and four cards that said “Does Contain DNA” for my sort of characteristics and example organisms for the six kingdoms. When students said they seemed to be missing “Does Contain DNA” cards and that they had cards that didn’t belong anywhere (such as the “HIV” card) they were demonstrating understanding and mastery on a higher level than if they had done a one-to-one matching activity.

Card sorts can be integrated into notebooks through questions or stems about why certain cards were put into categories, such as having students complete the statement, “I placed ________________ in the kingdom _____________ because…”  or  “We had the hardest time deciding where ____________ goes because…” You can also make the sort one that students cut apart themselves and then glue into a graphic organizer in their notebook so students can review their written justifications while observing the results of their sort.  Alternatively, you can use pockets where students can replicate the sort and practice on their own.  This is especially useful for more difficult concepts or content that is being introduced for the first time.

Tips for using card sorts:

  • Provide a key so students can check their sorting even if they are away from the classroom
  • Students can work in pairs or small groups
  • Ensure students discuss and reflect on why cards were sorted in certain ways
  • Use sentence stems to ensure English Language Learners participate in these discussions
  • Encourage students to distribute the cards between all members of the group and to take turns placing the cards

Example science card sorts produced by ESC Region XIII are available online at http://www5.esc13.net/science/resources/manipulatives.html.

 

Conclusion

Notice how, regardless of which formative assessment strategy or technique is chosen, it is the way in which the strategy is utilized and the guiding and probing questions asked by the teacher that provide the depth and rigor required by STAAR.  Formative assessments must be developed and designed in such a way that yes, informs instruction, but the main purpose should be for students to recognize and confront their own misunderstandings and begin to correct them.  A quiz, given to students working silently and independently that is then graded by the teacher with the only feedback to the student being a grade, is not considered formative.

Resources:

Keeley, Page. (2008). Science Formative Assessment: 75 practical strategies for linking assessment, instruction, and learning.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

STAAR 2011 Released Test Questions.  Accessed online at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/staar/, October 1, 2011.

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.

STAAR Resources

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

STAAR Resources

As you begin the 2011-2012 school year it is important to learn how the new assessment system – the State of Texas Assessments for Academic Readiness or STAAR – will impact the students in your classroom. While we are still waiting on some information we do know enough to get started in our instructional planning.

STAAR will assess students in the same grade levels and content areas as TAKS: Grades 3-8. At the high school level there will be 12 new End-Of-Couse (EOC) assessments. Beginning with entering 9th grade students in 2011, students must pass the STAAR EOCs in order to graduate.

STAAR will be a more rigorous assessment. A few things to note:

  • More items
  • Higher level of cognitive reasoning
  • Shift from graduation from high school to college and career success
  • Focus on fewer standards at a deeper level

One area of assistance that ESC Region XIII is providing is the STAAR Website (http://www5.esc13.net/staar/index.html). On this website you will find overview information relating to STAAR, links to TEA documents, content area information, and parent information.

As we begin to plan for instruction for 2011-2012 it will be important to study the assessment blueprints developed by TEA to understand the changes in assessment development. To assist with the study of readiness and supporting standards please consider utilizing the following resources:

There are many more resources on this site with more to be developed as we have access to further information. As you begin discussing STAAR with parents and students feel free to use the parent brochure and frequently asked questions at http://www5.esc13.net/staar/parent_resources.html.

While major changes in the assessment system are taking place, knowing your TEKS (http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=6148) and how they will be assessed will assist you in planning the quality instruction that will ensure student success in the current grade level and beyond.