Tag Archives: staar

Crunch Time – Standardized Test Prep

A couple of days ago Amy and I were lamenting over the reality that in a short six weeks students from all over the state of Texas will sit down with their sharpened No. 2 pencils and begin taking our version of “accountability” called the STAAR test. For 9th and 10th graders they will have five hours to answer 30 multiple choice questions, write 2 short answer responses, and write 2 essays.

Six Weeks – a mere 30 hours (at most) to make sure the students sitting before us are equipped with the skills they need to pass.

Let’s face it, we are all in crunch time!

Choices are going to have to be made and lessons are going to have to be cut, or scaled down, in order to make sure that the last remaining hours are maximized. If you aren’t feeling it already, you should feel stressed!

But before you start running around in full-blown panic, might I offer you a solution:

Don’t sacrifice anything!

The conversation with Amy got me thinking about the reading test vs the writing test. What if, instead of stressing out about the reading portion of the test, we double the time we spend working on the writing portion? A few days ago, I studied the released questions from last year’s 9th grade End of Course Reading Exam (see below). What is one striking feature about the questions I studied?

  • Why does the author use sentence fragments to begin the article?
  • The author includes quotations from Gupta primarily to —
  • In which line does the author use figurative language to explain why people participate in the simulation?
  • What is the primary purpose of paragraph 1?
  • Why does the author include details about the “scissors” style of high jumping?
  • The author includes the information in paragraph 4 to —
  • The author organizes the selection by —
  • The author ends the selection with information about Fosbury’s later life in order to show —
  • The poet uses these lines to emphasize the importance of —
  • What does the poet mean by the lines “suddenly everything is a metaphor for how/short a time we are granted on earth”?
  • What is the most likely reason the poet ends the first stanza after line 13?
  • What is the primary purpose of paragraphs 1 and 11?
  • In paragraph 6, what is the effect of the author’s use of figurative language?
  • By having the narrator tell the story to Marge, the author allows the reader to function as —
  • The author uses ellipses primarily to —

Ok, so I gave it away… Look at all these questions that have students considering the motives of the author, or the writer, of the passage. Just a little under half of the questions ask our students to put themselves in the shoes of the writer and consider the author’s craft of the piece.

Wait a minute, isn’t that what we are trying to do when we ask students to write themselves? Don’t we want them to consider craft, purpose, style, voice, etc. as they put pencil to paper and write their own pieces?

So my challenge is this:  If you are faced with too much curriculum to cover and not enough time, consider stepping back and focusing on developing your students as writers.

If we empower our students to critically think about composing their pieces as a genuine writers, not just test takers, where they confidently make stylistic choices in their own writing, they will be able to approach a reading passage with a critical writer’s eye, and in turn be able to examine another writer’s stylistic choices.

Amy and I think we are on to something. She is making these choices during her own crunch time with first-time 9th grade test takers and second-time 10th graders (and a handful of re-testers who haven’t managed to score high enough–yet).

What  are you doing with your own six weeks?

Standardized Testing: 5 Tips to Higher Scores


With the implementation of a new statewide standardized test, teachers are anxious to figure out what they can do to get kids where they need to be. While I continue to read up on information about the test, I am more convicted than ever that the following statements must happen in order for us to see continued improvement in our students’ scores.


1. Reading and writing MUST be integrated seamlessly into all content areas. It simply isn’t enough for students to be intentionally reading and writing in their language arts classroom.

2. You must now consider that all of your students are in your AP or advanced class. Everyone has to experience the rigor. It is not okay to just “get kids to pass.” That idea simply won’t cut it any more.

3. In order for students to do well, they must READ like a WRITERS and WRITE like READERS. You can’t have one without the other, and teachers need to be explicitly interlocking the two together as they teach.

4. It is not about the test. We can want to see more released questions/examples and have more data from the state, or whatever, but that really isn’t going to get our kids to score any better. The only thing that will improve our scores is improved instruction that utilizes sound teaching strategies.

5. All kids have to read and write more! Practice makes perfect, or so they say…. Regardless, our kids that struggle with reading and writing simply haven’t logged enough flight hours. —Ok, that’s a generalization, I get there could be other reasons for kids struggling, but generally speaking, students who struggle need more authentic practice.

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