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Bipartisan Group Of Texas Lawmakers Says Canceling STAAR Would Take Pressure Off Families, Educators

An empty classroom with desks, chairs and yellow floor.
Gabriel C. Pérez

From Texas Standard:

A bipartisan group of almost 70 Texas lawmakers is calling on the Texas Education Agency to cancel this year's STAAR exams.

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests, or STAAR, help the state measure school performance. But the lawmakers argue that this year the pandemic would make it hard to fairly judge that performance. They also say that the exam would be an added burden on parents and educators already struggling with remote learning and the unpredictable nature of schooling right now.

Democratic state Rep. Diego Bernal of San Antonio leads the effort to cancel this year's exam. He recently wrote a letter asking as much of TEA Commissioner Mike Morath and Gov. Greg Abbott.

Bernal told Texas Standard that canceling or altering the exam word signal to parents and educators "that the pressure is off." If it isn't canceled, he wants it to only be used as a "diagnostic tool."

"Meaning, use it to chart the path to help students figure out where they're at, where they should go, what the rest of the school year should look like in terms of their learning and make sure that teachers, classrooms, campuses and districts aren't graded on the results of the exam in the system," Bernal said.

Using the test to rate schools as the state normally does, he argues, would be unfair during a time when students are learning in so many different ways because of the pandemic; there are too any variables, he says.

"There's no way to really measure or grade in a fair way what's happening right now. I think you have to start with the assumption that educators and schools are doing the very best that they can. And if you're not starting there, then you've got a bigger problem than just this exam," he said.

The TEA has not yet responded to Bernal's letter. He contends that the agency and the governor have all the information needed to make a decision about STAAR now. If they decide to go though with testing, Bernal says he could try to force the issue when the Legislature meets in January. But during the intervening time, he says it would only add more uncertainty for families and educators.

"By that point, I think we'd be living under, and that would be two, three more months of sort of a STAAR scenario for teachers and students. It just wouldn't be as effective," he said. "The bottom line is they both have the ability to make that call now, and they might as well as we try to trudge through the next few months."

Texas Standard reached out to Commissioner Morath for an interview, but he has not yet responded.

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Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.