The 5th Grade Science STAAR test has higher standards for passing and obtaining mastery than any other subject. It’s a tough test, too. For years, I have been working on a strategy to help my students master this test without “teaching the test”. No one likes to think about standardized testing every. single. day. Focusing only on STAAR can actually make you lose the educational quality you provide your students.
During STAAR season, my school puts us on a modified schedule called the “Double-Double”, where ultimately, 5th grade students get three hours a day of Reading and Math in the month before they test, then flip to three hours a day of Science for a month before that test is administered. I must say our scores have benefited greatly from this, although I know my school isn’t typical and this probably isn’t possible for most campuses.
However, during this extra time with my 5th graders, have had a lot of time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I incorporate what I call STAAR Boot Camp. Read on for some test taking strategies for your students and an overview of how I run my camp.
Traditional Test Taking Strategies
At the beginning of every school year, I administer an old version of the Science STAAR to incoming 5th graders. I always tell them WHY I am doing it, and most students take it very seriously. I use the tests to calculate how they did by reporting category, then plug the information into an Excel spreadsheet. This helps me identify each student’s strengths and weaknesses, and allows me to target exactly what they need throughout the school year.
Then in April, I give them the same test again. I put the data I collect into the same spreadsheet. Before we start boot camp, I sit with each student individually and go over their results. I show them how much they’ve grown over the year, as well as what they still need to work on. Once we’ve identified areas that need improvement, they focus on those topics throughout our STAAR Boot Camp.
Even your weakest students will show SOME growth over the year, and it is important you point that out to them. Actually, I give out little prizes for students who improve the most percentage wise. If a student rises from a 35% to 55%, that is significant, even if it isn’t passing by STAAR standards. I try to focus on the growth, not the grade.
Keep in mind, I always tell them WHY I am doing it. Sometimes teachers take for granted how important it is for students to understand the method behind the madness.
STAAR Science Released Tests
While I don’t TEACH the test, obviously, it is extremely beneficial for students to have experience with the types of questions they can expect to encounter. Every day of boot camp, we work 1-2 Science STAAR released test questions as a warm-up. By the end of our four weeks of extra science instruction, the students have worked through an entire STAAR test.
You can find previous years released STAAR tests HERE.
Not only do students get exposure to the question format, they also get to practice test taking strategies! Bringing me to my next recommendation…
Standardized testing is BORING. Test taking skills are BORING. As an educator, we have to find a way to make the mundane tasks memorable at the very least. That’s why I LOVE the “Ugly Chickens” testing strategy.
I’m not sure exactly where it originated. A mentor passed it along to me when I first started. Her version was 5 steps, but I added a sixth.
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My camps rotate through 3 stations every day.
The first station works with me in a small group. We do a short, hands on investigation EVERY DAY for four weeks. I start all over with the content from the beginning of the year and work back through everything we learned, making sure to present it in a new and engaging way.
What we use: Region 4 Supporting STAAR Achievement in Science
The second station works independently. They have the choice to work on whatever topics they like, but I always encourage them to focus on the areas of improvement we discussed when boot camp started.
What we use: STAAR Blitz Folder (not to be confused with the TPT packet that comes up in searches.)
A few years back I acquired an INVALUABLE packet from a Region 4 workshop that included a STAAR Science review broken down by TEKS (3rd-5th grade) with multiple choice questions, reading passages, drawing, and writing activities for each TEK. It’s over 75 pages long, and I make a folder for each student to work through.
STAAR workbooks are another great option if you like something more formal.
Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in a copy of the packet and study guide.
The third station works on technology. They use iPads to do a combination of STEMscopes and Study Island assignments that are targeted to whatever topic we are working on in the small group investigation. I will also sprinkle in some BrainPop and targeted science apps if there is anything that directly correlates to what we are reviewing that day.
Additional Resources: Dynanotes. If you don’t have them, get them! It’s everything your students need to know in one neat, well designed, card stock laminated package that fits into binders and folders. This helps them tremendously in completing their independent work. They also get to put their vocabulary folders to work.
Did you know you can use visual aids, science illustrations, and blank graphic organizers as supplemental aids DURING 5TH GRADE SCIENCE STAAR testing?
I begin using these graphics at the beginning of the year so the students are familiar with them. Each week when we start a new unit, we fill out the corresponding science graphic organizer or illustration together. I project it, and then we discuss it. I also occasionally use it for an end of unit assessment rather than introducing it at the beginning of a unit.
In the last weeks before Science STAAR, we do them all again, one per day. They take the original set they built over the school year home to study with.
When it’s time to test, they get the blank graphic organizers and illustrations. I encourage students to fill out as much as they can before they start the test. Visual aids help tremendously with student recall, and these also provide an excellent study tool for your students to take home in the weeks before STAAR.
I created this last year for my own students when I found out the rules had changed, and updated it this year so I could make it available for you to use in your own classroom!
I believe the most important part of preparing for STAAR testing, however, is making sure you students know they are MORE THAN JUST A TEST GRADE.
Like many teachers, I am not a fan of the “one size fits all” approach that standardized tests force our students into. Students should be able to express their knowledge in a variety of ways. But that is a discussion for another day.
What do YOU do to prepare students for STAAR? Let me know in the comments below.
NEXT: Fancy some art with your science? Check this out!