My Take on Things

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I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some things…mostly the Writing STAAR from 2016.

Here goes.

First of all, let’s just take a moment of silence to calm ourselves down from reading those words…STAAR 2016.  Yeah. Hang in there!

There were so many things that were out of the ordinary for the test.  Schools receiving the wrong test booklets. Districts receiving their tests in Home Depot boxes.  The company losing…yes LOSING test scores. And some schools receiving DOUBLE scores (which weren’t even the same scores in some cases!) for their students. And there was more…

I think we can all agree it was a mess.

But there’s more…

The 4th grade Writing STAAR was interesting, to say the least.  And the scoring? Ummm…let’s just talk about that for a second.

I had the opportunity to sit down with someone who works for the testing company and helps score writing.  Let’s call this person Bill. Bill told me all about what happened on the scoring end of things. I asked him to write some things down so that we could all have a better grasp of what went down:

  • Ambiguity in grading was the biggest issue. There is no consistent adherence to the rubric.
  • The rubrics ARE consistent and the anchor papers and model texts ARE consistent.
  • Inconsistent are the calibrations, ratings, and what is being taught to pass in schools.
  • My observation has been that ambiguity exists because of the variety of raters across the U.S. (Yes, they are ALL OVER the United States…not just from Texas.)
  • There needs to be direct, clear communication between TEA and the testing company. 
  • The breakdown is the funnel or flow once the information hits the upper echelon of the company.  The trickle down of information exponentially diminishes so that when it hits calibration, training, and rating, there is no reliable, linear, consistency in the rating system.

So…in a nutshell…the communication stinks…all over.  There were lots of graders (from who only knows where…because they put out ads on CRAIGSLIST, for crying out loud) who were extremely inconsistent and didn’t use the rubric.

Let that sink in a minute.

The STAAR graders didn’t even use the rubric…many of them, anyway.  Hmmmm…..

**Take a short break. Once you calm down a bit, continue reading.**

Ok.  So it was a complete mess.  But there are still some things we learned from this craziness.

The prompt threw the kids off.  Totally.  It asked students to choose one reason they liked being in 4th grade and to explain it.  Basically, if a student really didn’t like being in 4th grade, they were already doomed…but that’s for another time.

Anyway…when you think about it, the prompt wasn’t as different as we all thought.  It was just narrower than we had been used to.  STAAR has always asked for students to pick ONE thing and explain it.  In this case, the one thing was 4th grade.  In the past, it was a favorite time of year, what they want to be when they grow up, etc. In essence, the test had already picked their main topic.  What really stumped the kids was that it asked for one REASON.

Fortunately, if students chose to write more than one reason, they didn’t get counted off for it.  In fact, I’ve read papers from my current district that received a score point 8 and had two reasons.  So that’s definitely a plus!

If you really want to focus your students on giving one reason, an easy way to do that is to give a broad reason and then funnel it from there.  For example: I enjoy being in 4th grade because of my teacher. I love 4th grade because I get to go to the science lab.  4th grade is awesome because I get more privileges.

After choosing a reason like this, students can then choose more than one reason that goes with what their “main” reason (the ones above). For example: My teacher is kind. My teacher lets us do fun activities. Or…The science lab looks amazing. I get to do tons of experiments in the science lab. This still allows kids to use multiple reasons that connect to one main reason.

So…it really isn’t all that different from what we’ve had in the past when you look at it this way.  It just required much more thought and skill at developing their reasons if they did it this way.

Does that make you feel better at all?

The cool thing is that YOU can make a difference.  This company is ALWAYS looking for people to help grade essays! If you are interested, just search for “STAAR” on a job search engine and sign up!!  Let’s get more TEACHERS to help with the grading!!

If you’re interested in some things that might help your students with writing or grammar, I have several products (even FREE ONES!!) in my TpT store.  Just click here.

What are your thoughts about it?  I know we would all love to hear!  Leave a comment below!

Here’s to hoping it gets better this year!! 😉




  1. Jodi Ramos says:

    I agree with what you stated and have a friend who scored as well. He stated to remember that not all of the raters are originally from America .Thus the eater from India who did not know understand why a student wrote TIA. I had mostly 6 and 7 writers last year and only one who failed ,but I did see the inconsistency in the ratings . I am back at being a specialist again and am asking my teachers to focus on those bubble kids making sure to confer with them the most. I am pulling the high writers during writing time and the low bublble kiddoes on the revise and edit section at another time.

  2. Brogan Boyce says:

    The one reason did throw my students off… I had so many ask me about it and of course I just had to say “I’m sorry I can’t help you, try your best.” I didn’t like the prompt at all… I’m hoping this years is better.

    • Kayla Shook says:

      I agree! I had one student who wrote and wrote and erased and erased and then broke down sobbing. I said my canned speech (that try your best line) and immediately went to the back of my room and prayed silently for him (while actively monitoring, of course). He pulled through, luckily, but it just made my insides hurt so much!

  3. Alison Cooley says:

    Thank you for this post! I felt as if they tricked our students last year with the prompt. However, when looking at the released essays from TEA, I did notice that students who chose a broad thesis, like we do lots of fun activities could write about more than one thing. I agree with you, that this is just a different kind of thinking for our students. I also agree that there was SO much inconsistency with the scoring last year. I was trying to find a link to where ETS is hiring graders for STAAR. I would love to do something like this, just so I could truly see what is happening!! Does anybody have a link for this ?

    • is where it should be. Nothing for STAAR on there right now but may show up closer to the test. I have scored for Pearson the past several years for a variety of states, grade levels, and subjects, and sometime I would get job offers sometimes only a week or two before the scoring administration for a particular test… so ETS might work the same way. (I will say that I never accepted offers for STAAR for 4th grade since I was teaching that grade level and feel that constitutes conflict of interest.)

      • (I know they are hiring for onsite only right now, but I wonder if they will open up online if they don’t get enough people for onsite.)

        • I graded online for ETS last year and saw where they were only offering on site grading this year within 50 miles of Austin. While the online raters last year were varied, every paper does get read until there is agreement on the score and there are scoring leaders to settle the discrepancies and give feedback to those raters that are “off.”

  4. Hmm. I am going to watch this link. I will be teaching fourth grade writing next year, and I think this will be invaluable walking in to my new classroom! I taught 7th grade for several years, but 4th will be a new world for me!

    • Kayla Shook says:

      Hi! Oh, 4th grade is so much fun!! And coming from 7th grade will make your job a lot easier, I think. From what I gather, the mistakes that 7th graders make are a lot of the same things we hammer into them in 4th. Good luck!! If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or message on my Texas Teaching Fanatic Fb page. I’m always here to help in any way that I can!!

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