Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Students Return to Class Monday, Moving Toward a New Semester of Growth

photo by Michael Cavazos, LNJ
Adapted from an article by Reese Gordon, Longview News Journal
Read entire article here.

Children were back in class Monday and local educators looked toward a new semester that will see a push toward annual state-mandated exams.  But education officials said the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), now in its third year, is not something that students can prepare for in the second semester alone.

“STAAR is about knowing the curriculum all year long and making sure that learning is deep seeded and connected with other learning to be able to perform acceptable or exceedingly on that test,” Pine Tree ISD Superintendent T.J. Farler said. “We don’t come back in January and decide to get ready for STAAR. It starts when we walk in the door in August.”

Farler said she considers much the preparation for STAAR is about “professional learning conversations.”

“It’s about data and our teachers looking back to say, ‘Over the last two weeks, how did I teach this piece of information?’ ” she said. “ Did I get the gains I wanted for them?”

In Longview ISD, Forest Park Middle School math teacher Kim Conley said the school gave students a practice assessment before the fall semester ended.

“We analyzed that over the break,” she said. “Each teacher had their data to take home, look over and set up a game plan for small groups based on need. At this point, we get real intense on grouping based on need. It’s constant analysis.”

Teachers pulled student data from last year and the year before to pinpoint where students are in their growth and set up individual plans for them, Conley said.

“I want them to pass but I focus on growth,” fellow teacher Kamala Weaver said. “If you came to me and you had a 35 at the beginning of the year and now you’re at a 55, that’s growth. We try to show them their growth so that keeps their attitude positive.”

Forest Park Middle School Principal Bill Bradshaw said the school will simulate STAAR testing starting Feb. 3 with eighth-grade math and seventh-grade writing.

“We’ll get an old STAAR test and use that,” he said. “It helps with familiarity because some of the kids get so anxious. There’s a lot of test anxiety, and we try to get them just to relax on that day.”

The STAAR tests themselves will be primarily administered in April, with some testing set to begin in March.

Bradshaw said teachers at his school turned in evaluation sheets Monday of their students’ progress on benchmark tests and last year’s STAAR assessment.

Students at Forest Park Middle School, Bradshaw said, will take about five total benchmark tests per year to prepare them for the state mandated testing.

Farler said Pine Tree ISD gives a curriculum assessment every six weeks for students in first through 12th grades, and teachers meet with principals twice a month to discuss student progress.

With a new form of testing, there has also been a change in student learning.

Conley said using multimedia has become a vital aspect of her teaching repertoire to keep students engaged.

But that engagement begins at the lower grades. While students do not have a standardized test to prepare for, they do begin honing the necessary skills.

Spring Hill Primary School Principal Peggy Mayfield said she thinks preparing younger students for STAAR boils down to teaching them how to learn.

“When you think about preparing for STAAR, some may think about the real specific lessons with work sheets designed for the test,” she said. “We don’t do any of that down here. We think good teaching gets them ready.”

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