By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald
After all of the debate and preparation, Central Texas school districts are beginning to see the realities of the state's new assessment test as they begin to implement it in classrooms.
As of April 6, high school freshmen have taken the end-of-course exam for English I; students in the fourth through seventh grades took a writing assessment. Fifth- and eighth-grade students took a reading and math assessment.
The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, which were touted by lawmakers and state education officials as more rigorous assessments that measure the college readiness of students, were created to replace the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test. They will be phased in over the next three to five years.
"There are some differences between the two tests," said Teresa Daugherty, director of academic assessment and accountability for the Killeen Independent School District. "So far, the (implementation) has been smooth, and we haven't really run into any major problems."
On of the major differences for both the teachers administering the test and the students taking them is the length of the test itself. The STAAR is a timed test, with each testing session lasting four hours, a departure from the TAKS, which did not have a time limit.
Janet Checksfield, a parent with a child in the Copperas Cove Independent School District, said she believes a time limit made the test more stressful for students, especially young ones such as her third-grade daughter.
"It makes her anxious; she worries about finishing on time, and if she's going to do as well as her classmate," Checksfield said.
Irene Andrews, a Killeen educator and a candidate for Bell County commissioner, said she and her peers believe that students would not have trouble completing the test within the time limit, but that the change would mean teachers would have to carefully manage their time during the tests.
"We can't stop the clock, and there's always mitigating circumstances that will come up," she said. "Any distraction takes away from that time, so (teachers) will have to handle those while keeping an eye on a ticking clock."
Split over two days
One difference between the two tests that may benefit students is the writing and English tests are split over a two-day period.
"This year students have more compositions to write," said Daugherty. "But they have two days to take that part of the exam.
Andrews said she believes the change will make the test easier for students.
"Trying to get all that writing in one day could be long and grueling for students," she said. "I think having two days might help them relax and focus."
Amid the worries and debate among adults, Eastern Hills Middle School eighth-grader Darrius Mosley said he thought the new test was actually easier than its predecessor.
"At first I was a little nervous. People were saying the test was going to be a lot harder," said Mosley, 14, of Killeen. "I took the math and reading (tests), and I thought the questions were pretty easy."
Mosley said that one reason the STAAR may have seemed easier was the preparation for the test he and his classmates received from their teachers.
"I think they did a great job getting us ready," he said.
Just how well students such as Mosely did, and how well teachers, administrators and district officials prepared them for the new tests is still yet to be decided.
Daugherty said the district will receive the raw scores for grades three through eight, but that the state is not expected to set the standards to measure test performance until sometime during the 2012-13 school year.
Scores and pass/fail results for high school students who take the end-of-course exams are expected in May.
"We have only just begun with the (STAAR) test," she said. "I think overall, the jury is still out."
The testing window for districts to complete both STAAR and TAKS testing ends in May, with retesting scheduled to take place in July.
Contact Chris McGuinness at email@example.com or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.
Area parents react to STAAR
Tiffany Snider Gibbs: "My 14-year-old says, 'It was about the same. but it did make me think more.'"
Susie Ratcliff: "My 13-year-old says it was about the same. The only thing better about STAAR is the old test was all day and STAAR is four hours."
Malissa Hobbs Nicoll: "My son, fifth grade, took it last week, math and reading, felt that they were harder than TAKS last year."
Maggie Smith: "My daughter says it's a lot harder, but shorter. She is in the eighth grade."