Aiming for STAAR: Boyd revamps schedules to tackle new tests

By Brandon Evans | Published Wednesday, July 31, 2013

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This summer school districts received the results of the spring STAAR tests, the latest face of standardized testing in Texas.

Students in third grade through high school took a battery of tests covering several subjects. Every district in Wise County had passing rates on more than half the tests that was equal to or better than the state average.

Star Test

Northwest was the only district in the county to exceed the state averages in all 28 tests administered to each district. Northwest students outperformed their statewide peers by double digits in most instances.

But a sore spot across the state and in most local districts was the writing section given to high schoolers. In English 1, students averaged 54.3 percent passing rate in writing. It was even worse at 52.7 for English 2 writing.

And at least one local district is altering required courses for incoming freshmen to address the issue.

“We agree we are not satisfied with the scores,” said Boyd Superintendent Ted West. “We feel that our scores at Boyd ISD are unacceptable.”

Starting in August, all freshmen will be required to take a writing course in addition to English. Also, all students taking Algebra I as freshmen will have a regular math class, plus a math lab during another period.

“Math and writing were our two weakest areas,” West said.

Boyd High will increase from seven to eight periods per day to accommodate the extra required courses and still give students slots to take electives.

“The transition to an 8-period day will give us an additional 42 minutes of instructional time per day,” said Boyd High Principal Scott Nedrow. “Students will definitely benefit from this.”

And following the path of most districts in the county, Boyd is starting a one-to-one program beginning with the new school year. A one-to-one program provides every student with their own electronic device. In this case, all Boyd students will receive iPad minis to use for instruction and project-based learning. It is supposed to increase student engagement.

“We are changing the way we engage our students,” West said. “Classrooms have transformed.”

Boyd was not alone in low writing scores. Chico, which was higher than the state passing average on 23 of 28 tests, experienced its lowest scores on the high school writing End-of-Course (EOC) exams.

And Northwest ISD, which boasted the best scores in the county, agrees with the importance of technology in the classroom.

“These scores are one reflection of the successes our students have achieved this year,” said Northwest ISD Superintendent Karen Rue. “We have a responsibility and a desire to prepare students for their futures. Our students thrive in a digital environment where they are engaged in collaborative, project-based learning while developing relevant skills to use upon graduation.”

Districts are still waiting to learn how they will be assessed due to the results.

“The state is still in federal court regarding No Child Left Behind,” said Slidell Superintendent Greg Enis. “We’re kind of in limbo right now.”

But using the results of STAAR, the state will no longer have the school rating system including exemplary, recognized, acceptable, etc. The new school ratings will be released August 8 by Texas Education Agency. Since this is the first year STAAR is being used to grade campuses, it will simply be a ranking of “met standard” or “improvement required.” Beginning in 2014, schools will be graded just like students, receiving a grade of A through F.

Meanwhile, districts will continue to come up with measures to improve student performance on STAAR and the EOCs.

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