High school students gearing up to take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness end-of-course exams will have a lighter load this year as the Texas Legislature implemented changes reducing the number of tests that will be administered.

The reduction in the number of tests is a move local administrators said will lessen the burden on teachers and students and put the emphasis back on subject matter mastery rather than test preparation.

"We maintain the same rigorous standards, preparing our students for success not only in the classroom but also beyond high school," said Curtis , assistant superintendent for secondary education at Conroe ISD. "Having less number of tests takes a level of pressure off students and teachers but does not lower our expectations."

Under House Bill 5, which was passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature, high school students are now required to pass five STAAR end-of-course exams to meet the new graduation requirements, said State Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia.

Before HB5 was passed, high school students had to take 15 end-of-course exams.

The five assessments under HB 5 include Algebra I, English I, English II, biology and U.S. history, all of which must be passed to be eligible to graduate from a Texas public high school.

HB 5 also eliminated the 15 percent grading requirement, which stated that a student's score on the STAAR end-of-course exams would have counted as 15 percent of the student's final grade in each tested subject area. The STAAR end-of-course cumulative score component was also eliminated, Bell said.

Texas has a list of all the Texas Essential Knowledge Skills for every grade level and every subject, which the law requires all schools teach and is the basis for all questions on the STAAR exam, Tomball ISD Director of Communications Staci Stanfield said. Teachers prepare their students for STAAR by teaching the required TEKS as the main focus of the curriculum.

The TEKS, which were created by teachers and approved by the state, is designed to provide students with the knowledge and learning strategies to be successful in higher education or the workforce, she said.

"The STAAR test is one of many methods we use to determine the effectiveness of our instruction and to identify areas that need improvement," Stanfield said. "Some students with special needs are provided alternative versions of the STAAR test, but all students are provided an opportunity to master the grade level standards."

The purpose of the STAAR exams is to determine if students have learned the content necessary to advance to the next grade level, Stanfield said.

At the lower levels it determines if the student is prepared to advance to the next grade.

At the high school level, the end-of-course exams are used to determine if the student is adequately prepared for post-secondary education or workplace entry, she said.

"The STAAR program is a more rigorous testing program than the former TAKS test," said Anita Hebert, assistant superintendent for curriculum at Magnolia ISD. "It was designed to measure student readiness for the next grade and ultimately for college and career preparation. Its focus is on application of skills, higher-level analysis and multi-step problem solving."

All students in grades three through eight are required to take the appropriate STAAR test and all high school students are required to take the five end-of-course exams, Stanfield said.