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STAAR Op-Ed -- STAAR Testing 2020-2021 School Year

By: Rep Ana-Maria Ramos, Rep Gina Hinojosa, and Rep Rhetta Bowers

As you read this, the State of Texas is finalizing a contract for STAAR testing for students in the 2020-2021 academic year. With Texas children coping with the emotional stress and educational barriers brought on by the pandemic, we, as parents and legislators, are asking Governor Greg Abbott to refrain from imposing the additional pressure of high-stakes, standardized tests on students and schools, and join other states in requesting a waiver from requirements for standardized testing for 2020-2021 from the U.S. Department of Education.

Our children would be better served by redirecting the tens of millions of dollars spent on the STAAR test to pressing pandemic-time necessities like the expansion of internet access to facilitate equitable distance learning, and support for school districts struggling to provide for students with learning disabilities.

The emotional stress children experience because of high-stakes, standardized tests is well-documented, and its appropriateness should be reexamined during normal times.[1] During a pandemic we have a greater responsibility to ensure that the State is not compounding stress. The progression of the pandemic has presented a worrisome accumulation of risk factors for mental health problems in children, many with limited access to physical and mental health services.[2] The State has a responsibility to support parents, families, and communities coping with the pandemic; not to add unnecessary worry to kids, families, and schools.

Most STAAR testing is legally mandated by the federal government, and Texas should join other states advocating for families and school children by requesting a waiver from testing for 2020-2021 from Washington. Such a request from Texas would likely be approved, as it was when Texas requested it for 2019-2020 because of the pandemic. Today, with COVID-19 hospitalizations increasing exponentially -- well above levels when the 2019-2020 waiver was approved -- and with a consensus amongst epidemiologists that the virus will disrupt our daily lives for at least another year, Texas has a strong case to make for a waiver from standardized testing for 2020-2021.

The STAAR test is not a diagnostic test. Administered at the end of the school year, it does not give teachers information they need to address gaps in a child’s education. Teachers and schools already have diagnostic tools to assist in targeted, curriculum planning. STAAR only ranks schools and students on content they should have learned under normal circumstances. These are not normal times: we know that students, through no fault of their own, have fallen behind. We should, instead, prioritize investments in educational support to keep school children engaged and learning.

In response to the pandemic, Texas schools are utilizing “distance learning” strategies heavily reliant on internet access to most effectively teach students while keeping them and teachers safe from the virus. Yet, not all Texas families have access to the internet, which widens the education gap and magnifies inequity within our schools. The FCC estimates that more than two million Texas households do not have high-speed internet access. And Microsoft finds that 14.6 million Texans – more than half the population of Texas -- do not use the internet at broadband-level speed. Texas can eliminate this major obstacle to education access by expanding broadband access to Texas families.

Finally, the most valuable resource we have in our classroom is teaching and learning time. The reality is that STAAR preparation and testing consumes a significant amount of this time, which is now more precious than ever with teachers attempting novel strategies to keep students engaged and learning.

For these reasons, we urge Governor Abbott to reconsider finalizing the contract for STAAR testing for 2020-2021, and instead redirect tens of millions of dollars to pandemic-responsive uses such as broadband expansion for Texas families and essential support for children with learning disabilities. If our true goal in public education is to “leave no child behind,” Texas should, at minimum, make investments to broaden access to educational opportunities for children who have an elevated risk of falling behind during this pandemic.

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[1] Segool, Natasha K. et. al.. Heightened Test Anxiety among Young Children: Elementary School StudentsAnxious Responses to High-Stakes Testing. Psychology in the Schools, May 2013. Saeki, E. et. al.. Potential psychosocial and instructional consequences of the common core state standards: Implications for research and practice. Contemporary School Psychology, 2015. Strauss, V. How anxious are kids about taking standardized tests? This anxious. The Washington Post, April 23, 2014. Talbot, Lauren. Test anxiety: Prevalence, effects, and interventions for elementary school students. James Madison Undergraduate Research Journal, Volume 3, Issue 1, 2015-2016. [2] Fegert, Jorg. Challenges and burden of the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic for child and adolescent mental health: a narrative review to highlight clinical and research needs in the acute phase and the long return to normality. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, May 12, 2020.

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