Texas House School Choice Compromise Could Spell End of High-Stakes STAAR Exams

Although what are known as “committee substitute” bills are not public record until after consideration in a legislative committee (and then some time until posted), two reporters for the Texas Tribune obtained advance knowledge of the contents of one of the biggest bills of the session.

The House’s version of Senate Bill 8, the school choice bill, has been languishing in the House Public Education committee since April 17. We are now told the House plans to discuss its 80-page version on Wednesday (May 10), which was heavily modified in order to sway votes in the lower chamber. While Gov. Greg Abbott has named school choice a priority this session, the House previously passed a resolution vowing to oppose any and all voucher-like programs.

At first glance, some of the proposed changes include, according to the Texas Tribune story:

  • Transitioning to the state’s standardized test from the STAAR to the TSIA. The TSIA, the Texas Success Initiative Assessment, is currently in pilot program mode and is offered to high school students by colleges to gauge their readiness. More on that below.
  • Limiting the bill’s scope — instead of offering education stipends to most Texas public school students, the House version would limit it to those with a disability ($10,500/year), those who are “educationally disadvantaged” ($9,000/year), and whose campus received a “D” grade by the state over the past two years ($7,500/year). Siblings would be allowed to attend as not to split up families.
  • Removing the Senate bill’s restriction on teaching about gender and sexual orientation — critics have said this provision is similar to Florida’s bill to stop sexual propaganda in public schools.

The STAAR, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, would be phased out by the 2027-28 school year as directed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) under the House substitute bill, according to the Texas Tribune article. The bill would require pre-exams to be given different times of the year in three portions throughout grades 3-9, with the full TSIA exams given in the 11th grade. Passing the test would not be required for graduation.

TSIA is often given in lieu of the SAT or ACT for entering college students.

STAAR reform has been supported by members of both major parties, most notably by 2013’s HB 5 which reduced the number of STAAR end-of-course exams from 15 to 5 in high school grades.


Critics have continued to lambaste it as “high stakes testing” that distracts from the year’s learning flow as well as it is a boon for private testing contractors. Cambium received around $6.8 million and Pearson $23.9 million in 2021 — down from a $90 million tab for Pearson in 2013.

Supporters of the STAAR suggest the exams add additional rigor and the mastery of skills necessary for students to complete in a global marketplace.

Currently, HB 4402 by West Texas Republican Rep. Cecil Bell is the primary vessel to rein in the STAAR exams. It cleared the House floor today (Tuesday, May 10). No Senate companion bill is listed. The bill would, among other items, untie the STAAR from school and district accountability scores.

This is a developing story.




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