First Day of School

Kindergarteners line up to begin the first day of school at Goodwin Frazier Elementary School on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. 

Public school students this spring will still take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exam, also known as STAAR, but the state will not use those results to rate schools and districts, officials from the Texas Education Agency announced Thursday.

During normal years, the state rates its schools and districts on a scale from A through F, based in part on the results received on the standardized tests, administered to students in third through 12th grade.

TEA officials said STAAR testing would proceed, so parents and educators continue to understand what students have learned this year and to gauge the impact of the pandemic on education.

In a statement, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said the last nine months have been “some of the most disruptive of our lives.” 

“The challenges have been especially pronounced for our parents, teachers, and students,” Morath said. “We continue to prioritize the health and safety of students, teachers and staff in our schools this year while working to ensure students grow academically.”

In a message to parents, Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim said he believed pausing the A-F accountability rating system for this school year is a prudent decision.

“Certainly, it makes sense to set aside the accountability rating for one year,” Kim said. “However, with the disruptions caused by the pandemic, it is crucial that we measure student progress so we can identify and address any learning gaps that may exist. The STAAR reporting will also give us the opportunity to spot weaknesses in our system that also need to be addressed.”

Kim went on to say that he encouraged parents to support their child’s performance on the STAAR to ensure the data the school district receives is an accurate reflection of the student’s progress.

New Braunfels ISD Superintendent Randy Moczygemba said the decision is “a great compromise for all those that would be affected.” 

“The past year has created different challenges for every school district across the state,” Moczygemba said. “The fact that we will still be required to administer the test is not popular to everyone, but we welcome the data it will provide so we will have a measurement of where each student is academically. COVID-19 has caused a lot of problems, so having this testing data will help us evaluate and move forward.”

During the 2018-19 school year, the last year accountability ratings were issued, Comal ISD received an A and New Braunfels ISD received a B, according to TEA.

School systems were not rated last year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Morath said the issuance of A-F ratings for schools has proven to be a valuable tool to support continuous improvement for the state’s students, allowing educators, parents and the general public to better identify and expand efforts that are working for kids. 

But Morath added that the pandemic has “disrupted school operations in fundamental ways that have often been outside the control of our school leaders, making it far more difficult to use these ratings as a tool to support student academic growth.”

School systems are required to make STAAR available to every eligible student. 

The test will be administered on school campuses across the state or at other secure alternative testing sites, according to TEA officials. 

The test is an assessment of the grade-level expectations of Texas students, with questions designed by subject matter experts and committees of Texas teachers to measure how well students have mastered knowledge and skills in various grades and subjects. 

A bipartisan group of 68 Texas House representatives signed a letter last month calling on TEA to cancel the STAAR exam or, at minimum, not use student scores to rate schools or districts this school year.

The letter asked that the state to apply for waivers from the U.S. Department of Education to cancel the standardized test. 

Should the test still be administered during the coronavirus pandemic, it “should only serve as a diagnostic instrument to see where our students stand academically as opposed to an assessment instrument to determine district and campus sanctions,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

The Texas State Teachers Association, which has been calling for a suspension of STAAR testing since June, quickly came out in support of the legislators’ letter.

Also last month, 12 superintendents joined business leaders asking that Morath keep the STAAR in 2021 but suspend ratings. 

“We think it is critical for government leaders and policymakers to fully understand the extent and the disproportionate nature of COVID-19 learning loss that has likely occurred for our communities from limited income homes and our communities of color as they are asked to make critical and equitable resourcing and policy decisions for our state’s 5.4 million children in K-12,” the letter stated.

Texas has already committed to allowing elementary and middle school students who fail the exams this spring to move up to the next grade, with district permission. Usually, student scores on the test determine whether high school students can graduate, whether some elementary and middle school students can move on to the next grade and whether schools can remain open.

The Texas Tribune contributed to this story.

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