Central Texas students will start taking state standardized exams Tuesday, which will determine whether fifth- and eighth-grade students progress to the next grade and weigh heavily in the state’s ratings of schools and districts.

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness start Tuesday for students in fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth grade, as well as high school students. Testing will run Tuesday through Thursday and pick up again again next month.

Fifth- and eighth-grade students must pass the reading and math STAAR exams they sit for this week to advance to the next grade. Fourth- and seventh-grade students take the writing exam this week, while high school students take the English I and II tests.

The onset of testing comes a few weeks after two Texas A&M University-Commerce professors published a report that states STAAR reading tests given to students in third through eighth grade are at a difficulty level at least one year above grade level, Texas Monthly reported. The professors came to similar conclusions when conducting a 2012 study.

Midway Independent School District will offer free breakfast to all students next week to ensure no one’s stomach is growling during the exams, Coordinator of Assessment & Accountability Karen Mayton said. Every campus will have testing Tuesday through Thursday.

“The teachers have done a phenomenal job preparing the students for (Tuesday), making sure the students feel confident for what they’re going to accomplish,” Mayton said.

Teachers focused on each student’s needs to help them improve in the areas where they are struggling, she said.

“It’s meeting the students where they are, working through each individual student’s needs and really helping the students grow academically,” she said. “That varies from reading, math, science and social studies.”

Hundreds of Waco Independent School District students prepared for the tests by attending a spring break academy. The students had to attend one of the five Transformation Waco in-district charter schools that were threatened with state closure in 2017 because of at least five years of failing state accountability ratings, which are largely based on STAAR scores.

About 60 percent of students who attended the academy improved their reading and math scores by more than 10 percent, Transformation Waco program director John Jenkins said.

Interim Superintendent Hazel Rowe said preparation in the days before the STAAR has been “a blitz.” Students and staff alike have been gearing up for the standardized tests all year, but there has been a “hubbub of activity” in the week leading up to the exams, she said.

“I would tell the students I believe in them, that I believe that they can do this, that they are smart enough, that they have been prepared well,” Rowe said. “I’d tell their parents they need to have them in school every day, and we want them to be a part of helping to motivate their students.”

McDonald’s will provide free breakfasts Tuesday, in the Waco, Temple and Killeen areas to make sure students “begin their day with a healthy meal,” according to a press release.

Students in grades three through eight, as well as teachers, can visit their local participating McDonald’s from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and receive their choice of an Egg White Delight McMuffin Sandwich or Fruit and Maple Oatmeal, apple slices, and their choice of 1 percent low fat milk or an apple juice box.

Studies have shown that students who eat a healthy breakfast on the day of a standardized test perform better than those who skip breakfast, the press release states.

“The McDonald’s family is committed to helping out students taking the STAAR,” McDonald’s Owner-Operator Hampton Conlan wrote in the press release. “It’s a big day for them, and we hope as many as possible stop in one of our stores for breakfast on us.”

Students should visit a participating McDonald’s with a parent or guardian, and teachers need a valid teacher or school ID to receive the free breakfast.

Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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