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Texas Teachers Want to Revisit STAAR Tests

Education, Featured

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Two years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, some Texas teachers want to revisit the standardized testing required by the state. On Friday, educators spoke to NBC 5 about the STAAR tests, and some felt it adds stress to the post-pandemic learning loss many students are facing.

A former North Texas teacher, Shelbi Varnell, told NBC her frustration with standardized testing was one of the reasons she quit her job.

“How quick they were to label the students [as] low, or ‘They’re smart’ or ‘They’re high; we don’t have to worry about them.’ There was a lot of, ‘Well, that’s the way we do it. We group by ability,'” Varnell said.

She feels that the reliance school districts have on test scores has gone too far.

“I was responsible for science and social studies, and I was told math was so low we needed to cut social studies and science and focus more on math,” Varnell shared.

The Texas American Federation of Teachers said this would be a good time to get rid of STAAR testing completely.

“It’s a great time to look at the value of the STAAR, financially and otherwise, because it’s punitive and not diagnostic,” Ray McMurrey from the Federation told NBC. “We have a hundred-year history of testing students, and we have to do it. The question becomes, ‘Are we testing for the right reasons?'”

The Texas Education Agency, which is responsible for administering the test, has defended the use of STAAR testing. According to NBC, an agency spokesperson said the results are vital to Texas educators, policymakers, and parents.

“STAAR results allow parents, teachers, and schools to see how individual students are performing so they can better support those students moving forward,” the statement read. “Results also give education leaders and policymakers across Texas a comprehensive picture of how we are recovering, academically, from the pandemic. And STAAR is required by both state and federal law.”

Post-pandemic, many superintendents have called on STAAR testing to gauge the extent of learning loss, NBC reported.

Other superintendents, such as Jerry Hollingsworth, have questioned their usefulness. Hollingsworth, the Waxahachie ISD superintendent, stated that teacher-created assessments are more effective.

“The overemphasis that has been placed on these high stakes tests — it’s too much,” Hollingsworth told NBC. “The most important assessments for us are the assessments created by our teachers.”

The 2020 STAAR exams were canceled, KXAN reported, and the results of the 2021 tests did not impact Texas schools. However, in 2022, standardized testing is being held as usual, and schools will be held accountable for their students’ scores.

According to the TEA, schools that have years of low ratings could be shut down. However, this year, any schools that receive a ‘D’ or ‘F’ will be listed as no rating. This will allow them to avoid sanctions from the TEA.

Monty Exter, a senior lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, explained that the importance placed on test scores is further complicated by changes being implemented in the testing system.

He told KXAN, “In part, because we’ve got that redesign, we are rolling out a new testing vendor also because of COVID, and we’re going to be rolling out significant changes next year in the testing system as well. So there’s a lot of change going on right now, and trying to tie high-stakes accountability to a compliance-based system that is already problematic when it’s also undergoing significant change is just not a good idea.”

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