It’s Spring Break for many Texas school students, whether already scheduled or brought-on by the spread of coronavirus COVID-19.
Day 1 of no school may bring an additional sense of jubilation from Texas public school students and weary teachers: In a surprise announcement this morning, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott not only suspended the state’s high-stakes exams for this school year, but requested the suspension of federal testing requirements for public schools students for the 2019-20 school year to make it official.
In short, students may not be required to take the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) end-of-course exam for the 2019-20 school year, pending any action by the feds, e.g. the Department of Education.
“Governor Abbott is working closely with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to ensure that schools continue to deliver instruction to students while students are absent or while schools are closed due to COVID-19. This includes tailoring instruction for students with special needs so that they have access to the same education as other students in the district,” a release from the governor said. “Governor Abbott will continue to work with the TEA on developing additional methods to ensure that students are learning and ready to succeed at the next grade-level. These discussions are ongoing and more information will be provided as it develops.”
Then came the real surprise of the morning: a social media post from the Texas Education Agency thanking the Governor for waiving the STAAR requirements.
In normal times, STAAR serves as an invaluable tool to accurately and reliably diagnose how well students have learned to read, write, and do math. This information is used by parents to support the academic growth of their children, and by educators to adjust how they approach teaching to maximize student learning.
This year, though, it has become apparent that schools will be unable to administer the STAAR as they would normally. TEA has already waived a host of regulations, allowing schools to quickly pivot to provide instruction and support in ways they never have before. We are thankful for Governor Abbott’s willingness to waive the STAAR testing requirement, as it allows schools the maximum flexibility to remain focused on public health while investing in the capacity to support student learning remotely. […]
From the hip: The STAAR has been unpopular since it was implemented, though an arguably necessary extension of federal “accountability” mandates such as Every Student Succeeds and prior No Child Left Behind. The successor to the TAKS, TAAS, TEAMS, and TAB exams, the STAAR began as more diversified end-of-course exams — 15 in all at various grade levels, until legislation in 2013 reduced the number to 5.
Critiques of an increased focus on “teaching to the test” continue to be heard, even if scores are generally up. Gov. Abbott has at times shown great sympathy for reducing the role high-stakes testing has played in public schools, including his signature of the bill that reduced the number of STAAR exams required. Abbott’s appointed education commissioner, Mike Morath, apparently agrees if TEA’s statement today is any barometer.
What the feds will do is now the question. It appears federal Education Commissioner Betsy DeVos is a friend to a more conservative and teacher-centric approaches to public ed, though is obligated to enforce the law as written. She is in a difficult position.
We can probably expect the STAAR test to go away for one year, but what federal education bureaucrats decide to do about it is anyone’s guess. Also: Keep an eye out for any efforts by electronic textbook publishers to push for online curriculums that have not been vetted by the elected board that normally reviews textbooks for Texas. See our previous coverage on this.