STAAR Alt Testing
Once again, a current client of mine inspired this post. There seems to be a lot of confusion among parents and misunderstanding of STAAR Alt or the state’s alternative testing option. Obviously, this post will be focused on Texas’ STAAR Alt test, but if you need help from your state please reach out to someone from your school or district.
AS usual, I’m attaching this document, just in case someone needs to reference any acronyms or isn’t sure what I’m referring to Sped Acronyms and Glossary of Terms.
While there are many learners in Special Education that take the regular STAAR test while utilizing accommodations and modifications (see more about those here in my Accomodations and Modifications Post) this is not appropriate for many of the students in self-contained classrooms. STAAR Alt is for students that are significantly behind their peers. Typically we say students two or more years behind their actual grade level would qualify for this test.
We would not want to subject these students to the rigor of the general education testing. It could cause some to possibly act out behaviorally, shutdown, or just start randomly guessing, and we do still want accurate data to come from these. However, these test scores do not count towards the school’s state scores like the regular STAAR test would.
It’s important to note that before this decision is made, the ARD/IEP committee needs to agree to this decision. Also, this will most likely affect the student’s graduation plan, should they continue on this path through high school. Here is the link for that information: 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) §89.1070.
There is a form that either the Special Education teachers or the diagnostician fill out in order to determine if a student qualifies for the STAAR Alt. This form has five requirements to break down the qualification of learners for this alternative testing method. The first asks, “Does the student have a disability?” While I know this one seems a little redundant, these are all in place as safeguards. Also, on the form, the teacher has to specifically list the student’s disability along with data from their FIE (Full Individual Evaluation) to prove this option.
The second question is, “Does the student require specialized, extensive support?” This one eliminates those students who may just need a small amount of inclusion or resource minutes in order to function in a general education setting. There also needs to be multiple sources of measurable evidence for this option.
The third question broadens the scope and asks if the student needs extra assistance across all settings, not just in the classroom. For example, if a paraprofessional needs to attend lunch with this student to make sure they are able to open any packages in their lunch, assist with eating physically, or using the restroom, etc. Does the student need help with behavior or assistance with any other needs?
Question four is an assurance that the student is getting access to the grade-level TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills statements), through pre-requisite skills. Despite these students being behind their peers, we do want to include them as much as possible with their peers and expose them to some age-appropriate skills that are scaffolded. Here is a link that brings you to the Essence Statements, which are essentially the TEK alternative statements for these learners: STAAR Alt 2 Essence Statements. These break down the TEKS into smaller more manageable bits that we can work on with these students.
Question five is an assurance that there are no other factors going into this decision, i.e. this isn’t a decision based on race, status, absences, or behavior.
Now to delve into the test itself! For starters, there are a limited number of students who are eligible to take this test. The state is not allowed to distribute this test to more than 1% of the total number of students in the state.
This assessment is built into groups of four questions, with each one getting progressively more difficult. The first question would be something as simple as a photo of a child building blocks. The teacher will simply state, “Touch the picture of the child using blocks to build,” or something along those lines. The next question would give the student more of a description and there might be two pictures for them to choose from. And they continuously build the rigor in this way.
In my experience, there have usually been about 20 questions for each subject. However, I have not given the high school tests, so I am not sure about those. If you’d like to look over the released tests, here is the site for you: STAAR Alt Released Tests.
I do know that there are accommodations and modifications available for these tests as well. For example, they can be read aloud, use calculators, be highlighted, questions can be reread a certain number of times, etc. Any and all accommodations that a student receives in class should be utilized on the test as well. I know most of my students were also tested individually, but sometimes small groups are the only option.
These tests require special training, and only teachers with this training are allowed to administer them. Students should also be testing with someone that is familiar to them.