STAAR testing adds pressure to final weeks as frantic Texas school year nears end

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Although millions of students continue to learn remotely, the state is expecting them to take STAAR tests in person in school buildings this spring. Credit: Pu Ying Huang for The Texas Tribune

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After a tumultuous year that has seen students falling behind and teachers simultaneously conducting classes remotely and in person, Texas public schools face a pressurized final six weeks full of standardized testing and makeup assignments.

Keren Jackson, a high school English teacher in the San Marcos Independent School District, has until April 30 to offer extra-credit projects or assignments to students who failed classes during the fall semester. She also has to spend several school days during the next month administering the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness to her students.

“I wish that society would take this as an opportunity to realize that students all learn differently at different paces depending on their environment and their interests and their learning desires, and that maybe we need more than one standard of education,” Jackson said.

Although millions of students continue to learn remotely, the state is expecting them to take STAAR tests in person in school buildings this spring. Elementary and middle school students will not be penalized for skipping the assessments, and the Texas Education Agency has said missing the tests will not prevent a student from moving on to the next grade level. But high schoolers still must pass five subject-specific exams to graduate. Some districts are also making teachers administer iReady reading tests and short-cycle assessments meant to evaluate STAAR readiness. That means certain students across the state could spend three of the final six weeks of the school year taking standardized tests.

A spokesperson for TEA said that STAAR test results from this school year will help lawmakers and educators identify subject areas needing improvement and develop solutions for making up learning gaps in the coming years.

But several teachers, students and parents across Texas argued that administering such high-stakes assessments during a pandemic is counterproductive and puts undue pressure on the kids themselves. Many K-12 public school students have lost loved ones to COVID-19, gotten sick and struggled to stay engaged with their schooling this year. According to a recent report from Texas Appleseed, 42% of students in Houston ISD, the state’s largest school district, failed at least one class during the first grading period of the 2020-21 academic year. In an average year, just 11% of Houston ISD students fail one or more classes.