Coronavirus in Texas: State to resume grading public schools based on students’ STAAR test scores

For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas public schools are being evaluated based on how students perform on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness — better known as the annual STAAR test.

It’s the latest big step toward normalcy for the state’s 8,866 public schools — including 782 charter schools — since the pandemic-enforced school closures in early 2020.

But this year’s ratings come with a few changes. This year only, the schools will receive an AC rating. Districts and schools rated D or F are given the Unrated label instead. Schools that fall into these lower grades will also avoid potential Texas Education Agency sanctions in the 2022-2023 school year.

The news comes as thousands of students in grades 3 to 12 are taking the exam this spring. Over the past year, students have had the opportunity to take the STAAR test and the results have not been held against them or the district.

The ratings, which are grades posted on school buildings across the state, are usually released by the Texas Education Agency in August. But when the coronavirus emerged in the United States more than two years ago, schools were shut down and, as a result, standardized test school tests for the year were canceled.

This year’s new AC rating gives districts that still have a D or F from 2019 a chance at a better grade.

Schools and districts are evaluated on three criteria: student achievement, student progression, and how well the school is closing its learning gaps. Student performance and progress weighs the most, and STAAR results are how the agency measures progress. Students are tested in a variety of subjects: reading, math, science, and social studies.

“STAAR results allow parents, teachers and schools to see the performance of individual students so they can better support those students as they progress,” said Frank Ward, a spokesman for TEA. “There is ample evidence that the process of setting reasonable goals for schools and publicly reporting on progress toward those goals improves the type of academic support our students receive.”

Last year, STAAR results showed that the pandemic had a significant impact on student learning, with far lower scores than before the pandemic, particularly in math. Also, schools that relied more heavily on online instruction had students who performed significantly worse than schools that were able to open and offer face-to-face instruction.

There are concerns that this year’s test results could be impacted again due to pandemic-related school closures and teacher absences that have occurred during flare-ups caused by the Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus.

Even though the grading system has changed this year, not everyone is a fan of the school grading system to begin with.

Matthew Gutierrez, superintendent of the Seguin Independent School District near San Antonio, believes the STAAR will be helpful in assessing students’ academic proficiency, but letter grades would have been delayed this school year because of the ongoing COVID-19 disruptions should be . Seguin, along with other districts, had teachers and backup staff traveling with COVID-19 during the Omicron surge last winter.

“We’ve had students go for days without the support of their certified teacher,” he said. “You’ve had situations where you’ve combined classrooms and had really creative staff, so it’s not optimal for learning.”

Gutierrez is also concerned about the “Not Rated” label. He said if a district achieved an F in 2019 and a D that school year, that district would not recognize that progress.

Monty Exter, a lobbyist at the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said the accountability system coupled with the STAAR test creates incentives for schools to teach for the test rather than taking a holistic approach to teaching.

“To be honest, teaching people how to test is a completely worthless skill,” Exter said.

Lawmakers and teachers’ unions have urged the state to scrap the exam again for this spring, citing teachers and administrators were still feeling the effects of the pandemic and STAAR would add additional pressure in another turbulent year.

“STAAR test administration is cumbersome and time-consuming,” Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, said in a written statement earlier this year. “Parents and educators share concerns about learning loss and the need to support our children after two years of disruption.”

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates and collaborates with Texans on public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Coronavirus in Texas: State to resume grading public schools based on students’ STAAR test scores

Dais Johnston

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