AUSTIN, Texas — A bipartisan effort of 68 members of the Texas House of Representatives called on the state earlier this week to take steps toward canceling annual standardized tests in the spring of 2021, citing the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter sent to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, a group of 50 Democrats and 18 Republicans requested that state leaders seek the necessary federal waivers to forgo administering the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, commonly known as STAAR exams, this school year.
“Instead of proceeding with the administration of the STAAR exam as planned, the (Texas Education 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 legislators wrote.
Local state Representative for House District 4 Keith Bell (R-Forney), and a member of the legislator’s public education committee did not sign the letter, citing the federal funds at risk and the need to gauge student progress during the pandemic.
“As a member of the House Public Education Committee and an advocate for the 16 school districts in house district 4, I am keenly aware and sympathetic of the distress of our students, educators and administrators have faced during this pandemic. Additionally, I am also aware that $5 billion of federal funds are attached to the accountability system,” Rep. Bell tells inForney.com
Texas did not administer STAAR in the spring of this year after the TEA sought and received a federal waiver because of the pandemic, which forced the abrupt shutdown of all public schools in March. A decision Bell supported as reported by inForney.com at the time.
The U.S. Department of Education has not decided whether it will grant similar waivers in 2021. The decision likely will rest with President-Elect Joe Biden’s new administration.
“Though I too have a disdain for high stakes testing, it is the law and until there is a federal waiver issued it is fiscally irresponsible to not administer the STAAR. It is also critical we determine the effect on our students progress during these unprecedented times,” says Bell.
During a State Board of Education meeting held Wednesday, Morath said the state plans to apply for waivers related to student participation rate requirements, which essentially punish districts when some children do not take exams. However, he did not commit to canceling the exam or outline potential changes to the state’s A-through-F accountability rating system.
Bell says there will be plenty of time to address the issue once the legislature reconvenes in Austin in January for what is expected to be a busy session.
“The 87th Legislature will have ample time to assess the STAAR, A-F and accountability prior to its delivery,” Bell says. “The kids’ safety and academics will always be my number one priority.”