Local officials say STAAR should not happen next spring

The Texas Education Agency has announced that it is extending the STAAR testing window, but local representatives say the test shouldn’t be administered at all next spring.

Amid uncertainty surrounding the upcoming school year, local officials feel the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness test should not happen next spring.

The STAAR test is administered to all public school students in grades third through 12th and assesses reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies. The STAAR test is given in the spring.

“During a public health crisis, doctors recognize that we need more testing to diagnose the disease and its impact, not less. Similarly, educators recognize that in our current education crisis, less information about academic performance is harmful to our ability to support students,” according to a Texas Education Agency statement sent to the Weatherford Democrat. “Diagnosing student academic performance is critical in the development of academic interventions and curriculum.”

However, local representation doesn’t think the STAAR test should happen this school year.

“There have been rumors that STAAR would be administered but wouldn’t count towards anything. There is absolutely no reason for TEA to spend $90 million on a test that doesn’t count during a time when the state is preparing for budget cuts,” Aledo ISD Board Secretary and Legislative Sub-Committee member Forrest Collins said. “Local districts have the ability to assess their students at the beginning of the year and throughout. We know that there will be a COVID slide for our students. Our focus needs to be on supporting our students, not causing further stress for them and our teachers.”

State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said testing more than five million students does get expensive.

“It’s testing over five million children and not only is it expensive for each school district in setting aside that time, the preparation and the staff commitments, but the cost to the state in overseeing the testing process, collecting the data, studying the data, is a very expensive process when you’re thinking about five million-plus children,” he said.

Collins said it’s sad to see TEA be the source of additional stress for families and teachers during this already difficult time.

“It has been frustrating to see the lack of empathy and leadership from the TEA commissioner. It is insulting to our educators for him to continually say, ‘teaching without testing is just talking.’ It’s insulting for him to hold $1.2 billion in federal aid meant for local schools and instead fund his pet projects and send schools a pallet of hand sanitizer and masks,” Collins said. “It’s sad to see TEA be the source of additional stress for families and teachers during this already difficult time.”

King said he has never been a fan of “high-stakes” testing.

“I know we need to be able to somehow assess where students are, no question, but — and we’ve got some time to get this worked out — I’m strongly advocating for TEA to waive the accountability measures, the STAAR test, until we’re operating under normal circumstances. I just don’t think we ought to do it at all this year,” King said. “I have never been a fan. In fact, you could say I’m an enemy of the high-stakes testing. I think the things that it does accomplish can be accomplished in a less painful and less expensive way.”

The STAAR test was canceled this spring after schools shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria issued a statement on June 30, saying the time out on STAAR testing needs to continue.

“Standardized testing should be the last priority for students, educator and policymakers. There are other, much more crucial priorities for the state, beginning with a plan for safe schools, a plan for returning students, teachers and employees safely to the classrooms, but only after the pandemic has begun to subside, not while COVID cases are still increasing,” Candelaria said. “Even under normal circumstances, STAAR exams waste millions of tax dollars, and that waste will be even more critical now that the state and school districts will be suffering millions of dollars in lost revenue from the pandemic. Our schools can’t afford the loss of more tax dollars on testing, and our students and educators can’t afford the distraction as they continue to adjust to new methods of teaching and learning. Let’s close the learning gap, not enrich testing companies.”

On June 16, the Texas Education Agency released information to frequently asked questions about STAAR, which included extended online windows for testing.

TEA will allow two weeks for the December STAAR end-of-course assessments, Dec. 8-18; five weeks for the April 2021 STAAR, grades 3-8, April 6 to May 7; five weeks for the May 2021 STAAR ECO assessments, May 4 to June 4; five weeks for the May 2021 STAAR, grades 3-8, May 11 to June 11; and two weeks for the June 2021 STAAR, grades 3-8, and EOC assessments, June 22 to July 2. The optional testing window will apply only to the 2020-21 school year.

“It is important to differentiate the issue of obtaining information on student academic knowledge and skills — i.e. having the test — from the issue of what we do with the results — i.e. accountability. There is widespread agreement that the former is needed and valuable, the primary disagreement comes in discussions around accountability,” according to TEA’s statement. “STAAR is a valuable tool which provides a valid benchmark that assists educators, administrators and parents in understanding how students are doing in Texas public schools.”

Collins used his son as an example of the upcoming complications of this school year.

“This is an extraordinary time for our country. It’s not only an incredibly difficult time for adults, but it’s also a difficult time for children,” Collins said. “My 8-year-old son cannot fully comprehend all that is happening in our world. He will likely walk into a school with a mask on and not be able to see his friend’s faces because they will be wearing masks. He will have a new teacher that he has never met that could be teaching him virtually. To complicate matters, he hasn’t been to school in five months and will undoubtedly be behind in his education.

“Our children are resilient but that much change can be incredibly difficult for children. Why the state would want to compound that stress with high stakes testing is beyond comprehension.”

TEA has indicated that there will be many adjustments to the system this year, but that “it is likely too soon to know all the adjustments that will be necessary,” according to the statement. “It’s not an issue of testing, but of accountability.”

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