The Texas Education Agency announced that although schools will still administer STAAR exams this school year, student performance won't have any bearing on their state accountability ratings.
The Texas Education Agency announced that although schools will still administer STAAR exams this school year, student performance won't have any bearing on their state accountability ratings. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

San Antonio students will take state standardized tests again this school year, but their performance on those exams will not be used to grade school districts for the 2020-21 school year, the Texas Education Agency announced Thursday.

San Antonio’s largest school districts applauded the state’s decision Thursday, after pushing for the TEA to pause accountability ratings but still allow districts to administer the exams to see where students are academically.

Texas public school students did not take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness last school year because of the coronavirus pandemic, and school districts were not rated by the state, which bases its A-F ratings largely on students’ performance on the exams.

In July, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the state will waive grade promotion requirements for fifth and eighth grade students taking the STAAR. Students in those grades generally have to pass the standardized tests to advance to the next grade.

But Thursday’s announcement to suspend state ratings did not go far enough for State Sen. José Menéndez. In a statement, he said the TEA made the right decision but that he urges the agency to suspend the STAAR completely.

“Administering an in-person test is both dangerous and unfair toward our students and educators,” he said in the statement. “In order to assist our public schools, students, teachers, and support staff, I will be filing legislation to cancel the STAAR exam and use that funding toward their recovery. We must make common-sense investments in our public schools and prioritize the needs of our students.”

State Rep. Diego Bernal said the suspension of accountability ratings is a step in the right direction by the TEA. He and 67 other state legislators signed a letter to Morath last month, requesting the agency at least remove the accountability aspect of the STAAR tests if not cancel the exams altogether. Poor performance on standardized tests can lead to poor ratings of campuses and districts by the state and, in some cases, state sanctions for school districts.

“I hope that means that a lot of our educators and students and parents can focus on learning and their own mental health,” he said. “I would have been happy with cancellation, but I’m appreciative of this move.”

Canceling the STAAR would have required the state seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education.

It’s unclear how school districts will administer the exams during the pandemic. All schools must offer eligible students the option to take the STAAR on campus or at “other secure alternative testing sites,” according to a TEA press release.

Northside Independent School District Superintendent Brian Woods said in a previous interview that he supported using the STAAR as a diagnostic tool to gauge where students are academically during an unusual school year.

“This is great news for students and teachers who are already bearing the burden of challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” district spokesman Barry Perez said Thursday.

North East ISD Superintendent Sean Maika said the TEA’s decision is a “win-win” for students and school districts.

“I applaud the efforts of the Texas Education Agency for recognizing that during this unusual time, students and campuses should not receive ratings and potentially be penalized for a standardized test,” he said. “I also applaud the fact that STAAR testing will continue as a measurement to see where our children are academically because we need that data in order to inform our instruction.”

San Antonio ISD likewise commended the state’s decision Thursday. Spokeswoman Vanessa Barry said the school district supports using the tests as benchmarks for students, without the high stakes behind the exams.

In a statement, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted school operations in such fundamental ways that using the ratings based on the standardized exams would not serve as an appropriate “tool to support student academic growth.”

“The last nine months have been some of the most disruptive of our lives,” the commissioner said in the statement. “The challenges have been especially pronounced for our parents, teachers, and students. We continue to prioritize the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff in our schools this year, while working to ensure students grow academically.”

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.