Over the past couple of weeks the information in this article has focused on preparing students and educators for a 21st century education. Educating students with 21st century learning skills requires a change in the way we deliver instruction. Why should Rockdale ISD change how instruction is delivered? We don’t change for the sake of change, but we change out of necessity.
We need to focus on a 21st century education because today’s student is very different than the student of the last decade and certainly the past century. We need to change because the new assessment and accountability system is going to require students to think more critically through complex problem solving.
The TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) will no longer be with us after this year except for those students currently in high school (they will be required to pass TAKS for graduation requirements). The new assessment does not begin with a “T” for the first time since 1980. It begins with an “S” and is called the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness or STARR for short. The change in the name is indicative of the assessments focus on readiness skills.
This group of assessments will be offered to 3rd through 11th graders beginning in the spring of 2012. Beginning next year incoming freshmen will be responsible for passing four end of course exams each year until they complete their 11th grade year. In each grade level 3- 8 and in each end of course exam grades 9-11, students will be expected to answer a majority of questions that are focused on readiness standards (from the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) for each subject in math, English Language Arts, science and social studies.
The end of course exams for high school students will be specific to the subject and not a content area (i.e. Algebra I instead of math, world geography instead of social studies, Biology instead of science, etc.). In the past the TAKS was mostly focused on supporting standards, but with the STAAR the emphasis is placed on readiness standards.
The focus on readiness standards will modify student expectations and how concepts are taught in the classroom. The types of questions students will be expected to answer will require them to think through multiple steps and make decisions using problem solving skills. The STAAR will be more rigorous and challenging than the TAKS.
The change to the STAAR is one of the major reasons schools will need to transform learning opportunities to meet the needs of today’s students. Rockdale ISD is planning to make changes at both ends of its public school offerings this coming year. At the youngest level we plan to offer full day Pre-K as opposed to half day so we can better prepare students for future learning opportunities.
We are also exploring open enrollment for parents that want to pay for Pre-K. The elementary school will conduct a survey for this need at their Kindergarten Roundup from 4-6 p.m. Monday. The high school is preparing to open up a 9th grade academy for all of its 2011-12 freshmen in the core courses. The academy will primarily use Project Based Learning suppor ted with tech tools that will allow students to be innovative and to focus on more readiness standards than in our traditional setting.
The STAAR is a new challenge for all of us as we prepare our teachers and our students for new learning outcomes and a more rigorous assessment. I will write more about the new assessment in a future article, but for now please be assured that RISD is preparing vigorously to be ready for this new world.