Entering the unknown

By Cristin Morgan | Published Wednesday, February 8, 2012

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Stress, nausea, headaches, sweaty palms, nail biting and shivers – these symptoms are experienced by students, teachers and parents when testing time rolls around in Texas.

Going from TABS to TEAMS to TAAS to TAKS, the state legislature’s goal is to offer a higher quality education for students. Now Texas will start the new standardized test, STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness), this spring.

“In general, they told us STAAR is going to be higher-level thinking and slightly longer,” DHS test coordinator Rene Fuller said. “It’s like an end-of-course test. If you’re in Algebra I, you take the Algebra I STAAR test. The test is specific to the course you’re in.”

Since this is the first time to give this test, teachers and students are anxious, not knowing what to expect.

“Teachers are nervous because they don’t know the format to help prepare the kids to be comfortable with this new test layout,” Fuller said.

Young Elementary fifth-grade math teacher Alea Pena worries about students needing to know the material for the test. From everything Pena’s read and heard, CSCOPE will help prepare the kids for this test.

“As a teacher, you feel you want to give your students your best preparation possible,” Pena said. “That to me is a stress factor.”

This is Pena’s first year to give a state standardized test, and she doesn’t want to let the kids down.

“I have a good friend who has been in education and is now retired, but he told me the other day, ‘Just teach the subject, and the test will take care of itself,'” Pena said. “I thought that’s pretty wise because if you know you’re covering the material, then it’s kind of up to the students to be able to apply that knowledge to the questions.”

Pena believes the big difference between TAKS and STAAR will be how the students process the questions.

“I think each question will require more multi-step thinking and processing, looking at the first part and carrying it to the second part, then drawing your conclusion,” Pena said.

Students and teachers don’t know what to expect. They have heard it will be harder than TAKS, and it is timed.

“The state’s really pushing for everyone to be college-ready, and I think that is why they have put a time limit on it,” Pena said.

Creating a time limit may be another cause for test anxiety.

“The time limit concerns me some for elementary students who aren’t used to this kind of test,” Pena said, “especially since they say this test is harder.”

Designing the new test with a four-hour time frame also worries high school freshmen.

“The worst part is we’re timed,” freshman Jacob Kevetter said. “I don’t like it at all. I think it will mess a lot of the students up because they will be freaked out by the time.”

Students from third to ninth grade will try the new test for the first time this spring.

“The ultimate goal is to test and make sure they know the information. We all learn differently, and we all process differently,” Pena said. “It’s a period of growth and transition. I am not teaching you for a test; I am teaching you for life.”

Testing dates begin March 26. They continue March 27-30 and May 7-18.

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