Mike Morath’s STAAR Announcements Are Disappointing

Mike Morath announced that students learning remotely will not have to take the STAAR this school year.  This is to accommodate families who are concerned by the health implications of sending their children to campus to participate in the test.  Because the STAAR cannot be administered online yet, remote students will not be required to test.

For those students who have been going to school in person this year, schools must administer the test to assess students’ current levels of mastery to ascertain learning loss due to the pandemic and interrupted instruction.  Students who are remote will not have information about mastery in the forms of test scores to analyze, of course, but this is dubious data at best in normal school years.

We’ve known for a while that no students in grades 3 – 8 will be held back or face any consequences for poor performance on the STAAR test this school year.  But high school students must take the end-of-course-exams in person this year to graduate.  However, graduation committees at high schools still have the ability to allow students to graduate even if they failed a STAAR EOC or did not take the test.

Bills have been filed in the Texas legislature to allow high school seniors to graduate without taking EOCs this school year.  Various groups are also submitting petitions to the legislature asking that the test be cancelled altogether this year or that a structured opt-out process be put in place for any student who doesn’t want to participate, regardless of whether they have been learning at school or from home this year.  Hopefully, Texas legislators will give real consideration to these ideas.

Though any clarification from TEA is always welcome, plenty of questions remain.  Such as how exactly will we define a remote learner?  Some students have been in and out over the classroom over the last few months for a number of COVID-related reasons—quarantine, school closures, family work schedules, etc.  Is a remote learner a student who has been home all school year?  For more than half of the year?  For only a part of the year?  For the grading period that testing falls in?  And what about the kids whose parents begin keeping them home this spring, or parents who informally opt-out by keeping their child at home on test days, an increasingly popular strategy utilized by anti-testing parents during normal years?

I taught in a high school English classroom for 15 years, and I know two things for sure about testing: If a student has not mastered the curriculum, it is by no means a secret that only a standardized test can reveal.  Second, test data reveals far more about socioeconomic disparities within public education than anything else, and we are already painfully aware of that issue right now.  Just ask any of the families who do not have access to the resources needed for remote learning despite the purchase of more than 2.5 million tablets or laptops.  Whether it’s because of a lack of internet access, a working device, an appropriate workspace, an adult to assist with troubleshooting (I’m also a parent—my son needs help accessing the work on his learning platform multiple times every single day), or even electricity, many kids are being left much further behind their well-to-do peers.

TEA’s plan to move the STAAR test online by the 2022-23 school year is not encouraging.  TEA has been given the opportunity to reassess the purpose and efficacy of standardized testing in Texas, but they appear to be completely ignoring this opportunity.  Not to mention ignoring far better ways to re-allocate the millions of dollars that STAAR testing consumes.

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