Texas students return to school to take STARR test

Southwest

DALLAS (NewsNation Now) — The topic of conversation in school systems this year questions how fair is it to administer standardized tests in a year that has been so academically abnormal?

The Census Bureau says nearly 93 percent of households with school-aged children are doing some form of distance learning in 2020. In Texas, students have to return to class to take their end of the year exam.

It is the standardized test that has sparked Texas-sized controversy long before the 2020 pandemic, and it is widely known as the STAAR test. The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exam for public school students in grades 3-12. Not only do collective results designate an A-F letter grade for campuses and districts, but students must also pass a series of subjects to graduate or move on to the next grade.

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Concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the academic year and questions regarding the test’s validity and fairness are top of mind for lawmakers and families alike. A bipartisan group of nearly half the Texas House is calling for the cancellation of the exam this school year.

“It makes no sense to me that we would continue business as usual in terms of preparation for this test when our schools and our families are struggling just to do basic academic content,” said state representative Gina Hinojosa.

In a summer press release, Governor Greg Abbott announced that grade promotion would be waived. But starting this week, not only have Texas high schoolers had to begin putting this year’s knowledge to the test, they’ve had to return to the classroom to do it in person.

“I feel like overall there should be a way to do this online,” said Jennifer Randall, an Austin-area mom who chose virtual learning for her kids this year. She said it was her part in stopping the spread.

“We went through all of this and now that we’re seeing the worst of the worst, and the numbers are going up, now they’re like, ‘You have to bring your kids back into school or they won’t graduate!’” Randall said.

Randall said she is confused as to why the Texas Education Agency is requiring the test to be taken in person during such an unprecedented year.

TEA has ordered the tests to be done in person so they can be supervised and to extend the testing timeline to space out students. Those in favor of the test ask that it only be used to track student performance.

“That data will be valuable in the context of the classroom—In the context of the relationship between teacher and student and parent,” said Dr. Scott Muri, superintendent of Ector County ISD.

The 2020 spring STAAR test was canceled due to school closures, but it is now back in play. The same choice was made by state leaders in states like Washington and Ohio. Georgia has also chosen to administer its standardized tests for this 2020-2021 school year.

Many schools are opening up gyms and libraries to accommodate all the students who need social distance for these exams. NewsNation reached out to the Texas Education Agency for an interview, but they declined that opportunity but did send a written statement detailing why the STAAR test matters this year.

“That summative assessment will provide equitable baseline data necessary to determine actual learning loss during the COVID-19 crisis and areas to address for the benefit of all Texas students,” wrote Texas Education Agency.

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