Using Dictionaries on the STAAR Tests

As any teacher knows, there’s a whole slew of rules and regulations to remember on test dates. One critical policy of STAAR involves the use of dictionaries during testing periods. There are five points you have to remember when using dictionaries.

1. Which tests allow the use of dictionaries?

If you’re administrating any of the reading tests from 3rd to 8th grade, your students must have access to a dictionary. Likewise, if you’re administering the 4th and 7th grade writing tests, your students need access to a dictionary.

2. What types of dictionaries are allowable?

Not all dictionaries are alike. On the state assessment, students can use the old-fashioned printed dictionaries as well as electronic dictionaries including applications found on a tablet or computer. If you’re using the electronic option you have to make sure to follow all test security and technology requirements.

As a part of this policy, students are also allowed to use a thesaurus.

You cannot use dictionaries that are subject specific or that have been made by the teacher or student.

3. How do I know which dictionary to choose?

Whatever dictionary you provide should be one your students use daily. Don’t give them a new dictionary app on the test date.

4. What about bilingual or ESL dictionaries?

Bilingual and ESL dictionaries are both allowed. If your student uses this type of dictionary in instruction and for tests, you should provide it during the STAAR Test. This includes sign language and picture dictionaries for those who use them on a regular basis.

5. How many dictionaries should I have?

You’re required to have at least one dictionary for every five students. If feasible, you should have one for every three students in the room. As for specialized dictionaries like ESL, bilingual, sign, or picture dictionaries, you should provide one for each student who needs it. This way you’re students are not wasting time waiting for dictionaries to become available.

This year a dictionary tool is provided within the test platform for all students taking the online version, both in English and in Spanish. Make sure that if your students are using this feature, they’ve practiced using it during the STAAR online tutorials.

Robert Moreno is an Education Specialist who works with the Progress in General Curriculum team at Region 13 to support local education agencies through professional development workshops and technical assistance. After working for over a decade as a teacher and coach in Central Texas, Robert understands the importance of promoting a positive, growth mindset that will ultimately help students achieve academic success. Robert is dedicated to helping others increase their own capacity through collaborative learning. As an educator, Robert has worked in various settings as a special education teacher, from the behavior classroom to the resource classroom.


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    • Hey Penny,

      Here’s the official policy related to STAAR dictionary use from the TEA, stating that you can use them on more than just the written composition.

      Dictionaries must be available to all students taking
      · STAAR grades 3–8 reading tests
      · STAAR grades 4 and 7 writing tests
      · STAAR Spanish grades 3–5 reading tests
      · STAAR Spanish grade 4 writing test
      · STAAR English I, English II, and English III tests

      While students are working through the tests listed above, they must have access to a dictionary. Students should use the same type of dictionary they routinely use during classroom instruction and classroom testing to the extent allowable.

      Additional sections in the dictionary (e.g., abbreviations, biographical or geographical entries, style or grammar guides) do not have to be restricted as they are also a part of the dictionary used routinely during classroom instruction.

      The school may provide dictionaries, or students may bring them from home. Dictionaries may be provided in the language that is most appropriate for the student. However, specialty dictionaries such as teacher-made, student-made, subject-specific, or slang dictionaries are NOT allowed.

  • Is there an easy what to put an offline version of a dictionary onto Chromebooks for students to use on test day?

    • Hey Carrie,

      We’ve been trying to round up an answer to this question, but we’re thinking we might have some additional questions to ask that could help you find an offline version that works well for you. Would you mind contacting so she can get some more info to help you out?

  • What online website or applications are allowable to use on STAAR testing? Like, specific names of programs to use please. We have chromebooks as well and some iPads, but we are needing specific sites that the students can use. Thanks!

    • Hey Shelley, thanks for your comment! I reached out to some of our specialists and while they had some answers, they thought the best strategy might be to reach out to them directly to provide a comprehensive response.

      You can contact Nichole Kertis at or at her number (512) 919-5246 for a complete breakdown if you’d like.

      If not here’s what our specialists had to suggest:

      Start by reviewing the Dictionary policy and this tech guidelines training powerpoint and determine if what your students are using or going to use, meets the security and validity requirements from TA. The caveat here is that students should use the same type of dictionary routinely used during classroom instruction and classroom testing to the extent allowable. Also Note that if student will be taking STAAR Online, there is a dictionary embedded in STAAR Online.

      You can also check with your CTC/DTC to find out what your school policy is concerning dictionary apps. They might have a preferred app that they trust and have used in the past.