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North Texas Professors Find Inconsistencies in STAAR Test Reading Levels

A new study hints at why so many kids struggle with the STAAR.
By Shawn Shinneman |

The difficulty of the reading passages on the state’s STAAR test don’t line up with the grade levels they’re testing, according to a new study from a couple of professors at Texas A&M Commerce.

For grades three through six, students read passages that are written, on average, two grades above their comprehension level. Dr. Becky Sinclair and Dr. Susan Szabo, who conducted the study, say that can damage self-esteem and reading confidence. They released the findings this week.

A student’s advancement into the next grade hinges on his or her STAAR results. The test replaced the more lenient TAKS in 2012. Grades three through eight take the STAAR. In 2018, Dallas ISD was home to half of the 12 schools in the state to receive the highest possible score on the test.

The study shows 7th graders are tested at a reading level a grade above. But the trend reverses in 8th grade, where the test reads slightly below an 8th grade level.

Sinclair and Szabo, who declined an interview, wrote that in addition to hurting confidence, failing these tests can cost districts money, leading to unnecessary remediation and tutoring.

Accountability and testing are important for schools as they provide important information about learning and how to maximize student success. Therefore, it is essential that high-stakes tests are written at the correct grade level and that teachers use a wide variety of reading passage levels to help students achieve their full reading potential. The results have implications for test development as well as for schools and classrooms.

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