With the lion’s share of attention focused on school funding and property tax relief during the recent legislative session, one of the most-hated features of our public schools – the STAAR testing regime – was allowed to tighten its stress-inducing hold on our educational system.
STAAR is hated by many educators, parents and other voters, based on TSTA polling, but the powers-that-be in Austin still think they know better than educators about how to rate the performances of Texas students and schools. So, legislators inflicted only minor wounds on the monster.
They repealed the requirement that fourth and seventh graders take a stand-alone STAAR writing test, effective Sept. 1, 2021. They ordered some changes in the administration of other exams, including a new prohibition on the tests having more than 75 percent of questions in multiple choice format. And they will allow some STAAR tests to be spread over multiple days to shorten testing periods.
Lawmakers also ordered the state education commissioner to appoint two advisory committees on test development to assure the validity and academic appropriateness of exams, following reports that some STAAR exams were written above grade level.
And they decreed that school districts not use STAAR scores in developing new performance pay programs for teachers, a ban that I expect many districts will try to circumvent.
The Legislature inflicted minor wounds when a full-frontal assault was what most of their constituents really wanted. So STAAR test scores will continue to play the dominant role in allegedly measuring student “success” and remain the backbone of the school “accountability” system.
Accurately or not, test scores will continue to define “struggling” campuses and, in turn, keep the door wide open for more takeovers of neighborhood schools by corporate-style charter chains. This, in turn, will transfer more of our tax dollars from school districts into the bank accounts of for-profit charter management companies.
The same STAAR scores, beginning this summer, will determine which schools get As, Bs, Cs, Ds or Fs. Most of the Ds and Fs will go to campuses with high percentages of low-income students, who historically have struggled the most with STAAR testing. Even with the new school finance law, those kids still may not get all the financial support they need from the state, but they will get a new stigma
And taxpayers who hate STAAR will continue to shell out millions of dollars every year to pay for it.