Abbott: Testing requirements should be dropped for Harvey-hit schools

5:49 p.m Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 Texas News & Politics
Ralph Barrera
Charlie Ochoa, Maintenance and Transportation Director for the Aransas Pass school district, is charged with overseeing the recovery process of schools damaged from Hurricane Harvey. He tours the A.C. Blount Middle School which saw extensive damage and won’t be back in operation until near the end of the year. Those students will share space in the elementary and high school. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Gov. Greg Abbott is putting pressure on the Texas Education Agency to give students in school districts affected by Hurricane Harvey a reprieve from state testing requirements.

Students in the fifth and eighth grade must pass the math and reading State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness to move on to the next grade. In a letter on Monday, Abbott asked TEA Commissioner Mike Morath to waive the so-called Student Success Initiative requirements for students in Harvey-affected areas.

“I also know some of those requirements could be relaxed in order to provide relief to students in areas hit hardest by the hurricane. As commissioner, you have authority to waive certain SSI provisions. I ask you to do so,” he said.

Morath is expected to soon make a decision.

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“Commissioner Morath and TEA staff are actively working to determine how we can address all the issues outlined in the governor’s letter,” agency spokeswoman Lauren Callahan said in a statement.

Harvey ripped through 60 counties along the Texas coast in late August, forcing 1.4 million students to miss at least some school. About 19,000 students were still living in damaged homes or in other temporary housing, the education agency reported in November.

An online petition asking Abbott to cancel the STAAR for Harvey-hit schools has garnered more than 240,000 signatures.

Abbott’s letter didn’t go so far as to ask for a suspension of tests but he asked Morath to request permission from the U.S. Department of Education to not give state ratings for campuses affected by Harvey this year. Typically, the state risks losing federal funding if it doesn’t produce such ratings.

Currently, the state gives school districts a label of “met requirement” or “did not meet requirement” based largely on student performance on the STAAR.

If a school fails to meet requirements for five years in a row, the state could close it or replace the district’s school board with an outside board of managers. There are 23 schools in Harvey-affected counties that have received failing ratings for four or more years in a row.

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