Why Every Teacher Should Participate on a STAAR Item Review Committee, by Harley James

Why Every Teacher Should Participate on a STAAR Item Review Committee, by Harley James

…and what I learned from my two days as a committee member


I represented Fain Elementary and WFISD on a Texas Education Agency Item Review Committee. I rank this experience as something everyone should do at least once. It helped me understand how decisions on the STAAR tests are made and gave me a chance to speak up for my kiddos.

Logistics-wise, it was pretty simple. The committee met in Austin. TEA provided breakfast and lunch for us both days and reimbursed us for dinner, for gas, and for flights if necessary. The TEA and ETS representatives were so appreciative of all the teachers who participated. We were encouraged to tell others about all the committees available so others would participate and they would continue to hear from teachers.

We reviewed STAAR items that were being prepared for future STAAR tests. We worked through 230 problems in two days. The process was eye-opening!

First, we worked individually through a group of problems that related to certain standards. Then we took each problem one by one, and discussed it as a group. Our ETS representative, Trish, would ask if we had any comments on the item we were reviewing. If we didn’t, she asked, “May we field test this item?” We would say yes and move on.

Teachers flagged concerns on some of the problems. Those were revised and submitted to be field-tested with edits. For example, one question offered an answer choice that I felt did not fall under the category of “a common misconception.” Instead, the numbers had just been switched. I pointed out that the only students who would pick that as an answer choice were students who have dyslexia, and it didn’t seem like a fair choice. I suggested a different answer choice that did fall under a common misconception for the standard. The group agreed. We changed it and submitted it with edits!

That happened multiple times throughout the process. Sometimes we pointed out that a graphic was helpful or confusing. Sometimes we noticed that spacing was off or wording didn’t match the standard. We made many changes. We all felt like we walked away having made a positive impact for our students – and the future students who will see those questions.

When you participate this way, you truly speak on behalf of your students and all students across Texas. The TEA representatives took notes of all of the concerns and compliments that teachers had about the questions. They will take the information back to the test creators. It was a great opportunity.

The application to be part of this committee is open to everyone now. If you are interested, you can apply on the TEA website. I plan on applying to be on more of the TEA committees very soon.

For me, the experience was awesome. A lot of work, but absolutely worth it. Teachers need to know they are being heard and that their opinions are valued—and this is a good way to do both.