What’s the Next School Debate? The STAAR Test

Statewide, cases of COVID-19 continue to climb – and although the Texas Education Agency says school will start on time, and in-person, next month, many are questioning that – and whether a high-stakes yearly assessment should be put on the bench for a second year.

In March, Gov. Greg Abbott waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (or STAAR) testing requirements for the 2019-2020 school year as coronavirus outbreaks peppered the state. Not long after, he closed schools for in-person instruction for the rest of the year.

However, part of what made that waiver possible was permission from the federal government.

“… due to the unique circumstances that may arise as a result of COVID-19, such as a school closing during the entire testing window, it may not be feasible for a state to administer some or all of its assessments, in which case the department would consider a targeted one-year waiver of the assessment requirements for those schools impacted by the extraordinary circumstances,” the federal agency said at the time.

However, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath told the State Board of Education last week that this year, there will be no reprieve from the STAAR test, which requires students in grades five and eight to pass the math and reading portions of the STAAR exams to move on to the next grade, and high school students to pass to graduate.

However, there will be some changes regarding an expanded testing window, as well as a longer period for online testing.

Morath said that a large part of the state’s accountability rankings depend on the scores from the standardized test. He also told the state board that without the data from the STAAR, it would be more difficult to determine just how big the slide was for students who learned from home last spring, often with uneven instructional plans, or with spotty to no access to the internet.

“The fact that we don’t have that data coming out of this year means our first line of impact for how significant the decline was … we just don’t have that information and can’t adjust our educational support to the kids we are supporting,” Morath said.

Many parents and advocacy groups have asked the state to hold off on the STAAR another year, since the pandemic will put schooling in – at the very least – a state of flux, with potential for pivots to distance learning for all students in hot spots for the virus, some students learning online all year or part of the year, and some students learning in class.

“To judge a student in the middle of a pandemic just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do,” Heather Sheffield, Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment president, told the Austin American-Statesman.

In flash surveys we took on social media, our readers seem to agree.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said this week that the STAAR test – with some changes to give more time to administer it -…

Posted by Park Cities People on Tuesday, June 30, 2020

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said this week that the STAAR test – with some changes to give more time to administer it -…

Posted by Preston Hollow People on Tuesday, June 30, 2020

On Twitter, 94.1% of those responding to our Preston Hollow People account said they did not like the idea of administering the STAAR test this upcoming school year, while 80% said so in our Park Cities version.

Two local state lawmakers are also asking the governor and the TEA to take a hard look at the test.

“I’m asking Texas Education Agency Commissioner Morath to waive STAAR testing for the 2020-2021 school year,” said State Rep. Morgan Meyer, who shared his letter on Facebook. “If we must resume testing, I’m requesting that the scores not bear any punitive consequences on students- like preventing advancement to the next grade or graduation. COVID is hard enough on our students and families without the added pressure of STAAR test scores.”

State Rep. John Turner said that the first order of business is making sure students and teachers can safely learn.

“First, I think the main focus for schools right now should be on the basics of how we will function and how we will ensure that students, teachers, and families are safe,” he said.

“Regarding STAAR, the pandemic may well be a reason not to administer the test this year. I am looking at this issue and consulting with people about it,” he added. “At a minimum, I believe there should not be adverse consequences for students, teachers, or schools this year based on STAAR test results.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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