Group of Texas superintendents writes TEA asking to keep STAAR test

Texas Politics

Letter comes amid growing chorus calling on the governor and education commissioner to request federal waivers for the exam

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A group of Texas superintendents, education advocates and business leaders is asking the Texas Education Agency to keep the planned STAAR test amid calls to can the exam due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, dated Friday and obtained by Nexstar Media Group, the self-described “coalition of leading school superintendents educating over 10% of Texas students, major business chambers of commerce representing over 40% of the state’s GDP, and statewide education advocates” wants Texas to keep the 2021 STAAR test.

“We think it is critical for government leaders and policy makers 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 coalition, led by Dallas ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa, wrote.

The group explained it believes “strongly in understanding where Texas students are in their learning journey and in using common assessment data to inform strategies and resourcing,” and argued standardized testing would help inform districts on how virtual, hybrid and in-person learning environments affected education.

The coalition requested the state pause academic accountability for school and district ratings for the 2020-2021 school year.

The group wrote: “while we appreciate TEA’s commitment to fair assessment and support resuming assessment exams for the 2020-2021 school year in order to provide a benchmark to determine where students are in their learning and to determine the extent of COVID related learning loss, we nevertheless believe that student, school and district accountability measures linked to testing should be suspended for this year.”

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of nearly half of the members of the Texas House, led by State Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, wrote TEA asking the agency to seek federal waivers to cancel the STAAR administration this spring.

“Instead of proceeding with the administration of the STAAR exam as planned, the agency, along with our districts and campuses, should be focused on providing high-quality public education
with an emphasis on ensuring the health and safety of students and educators,” the 50 Democrats and 18 Republicans wrote to Morath.

“While data from the STAAR exam may be a good indicator of where our students are currently, the data should be used in a manner to chart a path forward as opposed to being used to sanction our districts and campuses,” they stated.

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, penned a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, presenting more than 700 signatures of Texans urging him to act. She delivered her petition on Thursday.

“700+ Texans joined me urging the Gov. to request a waiver from federal testing requirements from the US Department of Education in order to cancel the STAAR test for the 2020-2021 school year,” she tweeted.

Lawmakers who did not sign on to the coordinated letter have also expressed belief that the state should re-evaluate STAAR administration, including State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano. He wrote Morath on Wednesday.

“Assessment and data are important,” Leach tweeted. “But the STAAR simply isn’t the answer.”

At a meeting of the State Board of Education on Wednesday, Morath indicated support for keeping the test.

“Absent the STAAR test, you’re not going to have sort of a valid reliable view of grade level mastery of students skills,” Morath said during the meeting.

“I think the different question would be the question of accountability, what you do with the results, which I think is a is definitely a sort of a much more open question,” Morath stated.

“There’s both state and federal requirements related to these issues that we also have to wrestle with,” he explained.

“There’s like a lot of tools out there to measure progress,” he told board members. “But again, each of the tools is sort of designed differently and for a different purpose.”

“The STAAR was designed to measure whether students have mastered, and to what extent students have mastered, grade level content standards in the TEKS. It’s still going to tell us that even this year, it’s just… we would expect to see significant declines in student proficiency this year, given everything that we know, and that doesn’t mean that we didn’t work hard, it doesn’t mean that we didn’t do our best to grow kids,” Morath said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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