By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald

Central Texas students returned to class this week for the second half of the school year, which includes the introduction of a new state test.

Even students familiar with the gamut of testing will step into new territory, as Texas school districts start using the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, test for the first time.

The new test, developed by the Texas Education Agency in response to state requirements set in 2007, differs from its predecessor: the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS. It is considered more rigorous; designed to focus on assessing college readiness and require end-of-course exams in some subjects for high school students. The new test also will be timed, giving students four hours to complete, while TAKS did not have time constraints.

“These new tests are different, and (the state agency) had provided districts and parents with many presentations and materials to keep them up-to-date-on these changes,” said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokesperson for the state education agency.

But some school districts, such as Killeen, Copperas Cove and Lampasas, will have different students taking different tests depending on their grade. While all third- through eighth-grade students will take the new test, testing becomes complicated at the high school level.

Ninth-grade students will take the STAAR end-of-course assessments, which are separate tests in algebra, English and world geography. Tenth-grade and above students will take the TAKS.

Culbertson said the new test will be phased in as the 2011-12 freshman class moves toward its senior year, and the test will be almost fully installed by the 2014-15 school year.

The Killeen, Lampasas and Copperas Cove school districts will start testing in early March and finish in mid-May, according to their testing calendars.

Nancy Yeary, Lampasas assistant superintendent, said she expects things to move smoothly in her district, despite multiple tests being given to multiple sets of students. She did say that scheduling might become difficult as the new test phased in.

“Once you have juniors and seniors taking the STAAR, it will be a challenge to schedule it so it doesn’t conflict with other tests, like the (Advanced Placement) tests,” said Yeary. “They also will be able to take those end-of-course tests multiple times, so that could also be an issue.”

She said the most important factor about the tests was to keep parents and students informed, not only about when they are scheduled, but what students will be tested on.

“We use the information from the (state agency). We also have held parent academies and talked about it at our family nights,” said Yeary. “We try to get them all the information they need.”

Testing details
For detailed information on the 2011-12 testing dates by grade, visit the websites for the three Central Texas school districts:
Copperas Cove ISD:
Killeen ISD:
Lampasas ISD: