A LYS Superintendent writes:

I need some therapy.  We received our STAAR scores today.  We saw some slight improvements in some areas, and some slight decline in others.  Of course what we want to see is significant improvement in all areas.  What troubles us is significant decline in several areas.  This comes after we have worked really hard to assess and revise instruction throughout the year. 

I know what to do from the ground up, but have never experienced this.  What advice can you give us?

SC Response There are a number of factors at play in the shift from TAKS to STAAR.  And what confuses people is the vain attempt to find a correlation between TAKS and STAAR scores.  They are vexed by the same patterns you have experienced, TAKS scores on an upward trajectory while there is essentially no pattern to STAAR scores.  Here is the short version of why this is the case… TAKS and STAAR are different games, so you have to change how you play the game.

The TAKS test was aligned to the TEKS.  The TEKS that were tested stayed primarily in the low to mid-rigor area and from a pacing standpoint, clustered towards the middle of the year.  We had release tests to confirm this and about 9 years to adjust instructional practices to point where most schools could get most students to meet minimal performance standards.

The STAAR test is aligned to the TEKS.  The TEKS that are tested are primarily in the mid to high-rigor area and from a pacing standpoint, clusters towards the end of the year.  And we have no release tests to guide instructional planning. This means if we do what we have always done (and what was seemingly working), we are guaranteed to fail at the new game.

ASIDE: This is like the IRS changing the Tax Code and telling the taxpayer, “Take your best guess and good luck.  Oh, and if you guess wrong, be ready to lose your savings, house and career.”  Remember this when you head back to the voting booth.

So what to do?  As with so much that we deal with, the action plan is easy to comprehend and exceedingly difficult to execute.

1. We have to teach the right thing.  This means we must follow the scope and sequence with fidelity.  Anything less is unacceptable.

2. Pacing is now king.  Every grade must move at full speed in order for every grade to cover the content that will be tested.  In short, if the test is weighted towards days 120 thru 150 of content, we better get there or else our students will suffer.  Note that inadequate pacing is the hidden cancer of instructional delivery.  Almost universally, we start the year slow and then get slower. 

3. The rigor of student activity must increase.  Which means if we don’t have more students operating at the upper levels of cognition for longer periods of time, we are only creating the illusion of forward progress.  An illusion that is shattered when the test results come back.

4. We must extend time on task, especially for the students who have been exposed to slower paced, lower rigor instruction for multiple years.  This does not mean “During the day interventions” where we pull students out of the content to catch them up on the content.  This is perhaps the most asinine practice currently in play across the country.  Extending time on task means before school, extended period, during lunch, after school, extended week and extended year instruction. And this extended time instruction must be aligned with points 1, 2 and 3, otherwise don’t bother.

Now some will say the test is defective (doubtful), or the test is unfair (debatable), or some students will never achieve at the demanded level (defeatist).  What I say is this, “If we know we aren’t following the scope and sequence, aren’t on pace and aren’t having students operate at the appropriate level of rigor, then external factors are moot.  Because we know that WE are creating a significant level of slack in the system.”

This isn’t an indictment, just an understanding that we still have room to step up our game. The vehicle for achieving this? The implementation and continuously improved execution of the Foundation Trinity and the Fundamental 5.  So your scores are disappointing, it happens. The adversity you, your staff and your students WILL overcome will simply make the inevitable success taste that much sweeter.

Think. Work. Achieve. Your turn…

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