Elementary and middle school students in the Fort Worth Independent School District are preparing to meet new requirements, including a four-hour time limit, for the new state achievement test, starting the end of March.

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test will replace the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills test for third through eighth grade and high school students, according to the Texas Education Agency website.

In addition to a four-hour time limit, differences between the STAAR test and TAKS test include:

  • Third through eighth grade students will take tests in the same subject areas as usual, but STAAR will have questions that require a higher level of critical thinking than those on TAKS.
  • The STAAR will include more test questions for each subject area than the TAKS.
  • On TAKS, students were given one day for writing tests, while on the STAAR writing, fourth and seventh grade students will take the test over a two-day period. Each day will consist of a revising and editing section and a writing section.
  • Student performance standards will be set at a higher level than the current TAKS testing.
  • The number of open-ended questions on most STAAR science and mathematics tests will increase to give students more chances to reach asnwers independently.
  • Last, while on the TAKS students were given an unlimited amount of time to complete the test, this year students will have a four-hour time limit for each STAAR test.

The four-hour time limit represents one of the more significant differences between the STAAR and TAKS tests that teachers will have to prepare students for said Dr. Sharon Meng, FWISD Assistant Superintendent of Advanced, Accelerated and Innovative learning.

“We’ve got a whole generation who aren’t used to taking timed tests,” Meng said. “There are a whole lot of new testing skills to learn for that.”

Students at Westcliff Elementary School have prepared by taking practice tests with time limits and using Scantron answer documents formatted like the real test Erin Giraulo, Westcliff Elementary assistant principal, said. This preparation comes in addition to incorporating test elements into the classroom every day.

“Our main form of preparation really happens within the daily teaching instruction,” Giraulo said. “The teacher ensures us that all necessary tasks and student expectations are embedded in their lessons every day.”

Jennifer Mitchell, a Westcliff Elementary science and reading teacher, wrote in an email, that besides helping students become more aware of the time limit, preparation for the state achievement testing has not really changed.

She said she has not received much information about STAAR tests other than the general factors that differentiates it from TAKS. So, as far as preparing students, she said, teachers have focused on breaking down the state’s student expectations and used them as a guide for the knowledge and skills students should learn.

Since this year will mark the first for STAAR testing, teachers and administrators have seen very few released test items. With this in mind, all they can do to prepare is teach the curriculum and hope what they do will help students perform well on the test, Meng said.

Giraulo said she believed STAAR will bring a positive change for students’ future.

“[STAAR will make] it necessary for the student to think more critically in all grades, subjects and courses,” she said. “Because of this, students will be better prepared for success in college and the workplace.”

Read about how STAAR testing for high school students here.