Beyond the Scantron: How a STAAR Is Born — In Texas, Those Closest to Daily Instruction Play a Major Role in Developing the State Exam

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images)

This piece is part of “Beyond the Scantron: Tests and Equity in Today’s Schools,” a three-week series produced in collaboration with the George W. Bush Institute to examine key elements of high-quality exams and illuminate why using them well and consistently matters to equitably serve all students. Read all the pieces in this series as they are published here. Read our previous accountability series here.

Some teachers and parents are convinced that state standardized tests are created quickly and for the sole purpose of making money with a lack of input from education experts. In reality, tests are the product of a time-intensive creation and review process by psychometricians, state agency experts, curriculum specialists, district superintendents and teachers

Yes, teachers gather each year to review and write questions that could appear on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness exams in the future.

The Texas Education Agency posts an application online for educators who want to become part of a STAAR question review panel. A school administrator can also nominate a teacher to participate. The agency selects teachers from the pool based upon their expertise in a subject, grade level, and experience in teaching. The agency prioritizes selecting teachers from all over Texas in districts that are representative of the state’s students.

Once selected, the teachers are assigned to teams based upon their subject expertise. Those teams are about 20 members, and also include experts from the Educational Testing Service, which administers the STAAR exam, and TEA subject experts.

The group then reviews every potential question drafted for the exam — which are also checked to ensure that they align to state standards, aka TEKS — Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.

The teams discuss each question at length. Sometimes, the group will accept or discard the item automatically. Other times, the question will be reworded, and put into the test bank for the state and ETS officials to consider including in the STAAR exam. A consensus is required to move a question forward. If the educators cannot agree, the question is rejected.

Approved items are then field tested with students. If those field tests show that the questions are fair for all groups of students, then the items become eligible for a STAAR exam over the next three years.

Texas also recently created a summer institute that trains teachers to write questions, not just to review them.

The bottom line: In Texas, those closest to daily instruction play a significant role in developing the state exam. That makes good sense and it is good practice.

William McKenzie is senior editorial advisor at the George W. Bush Institute.

Get stories like these delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for The 74 Newsletter

Republish This Article

We want our stories to be shared as widely as possible — for free.

Please view The 74's republishing terms.

On The 74 Today