State concerned about giving STAAR reprieve to Harvey-affected schools

Despite pleas from some school districts affected by Hurricane Harvey, the state education commissioner told lawmakers on Tuesday that it will be difficult to delay student testing dates or suspend testing requirements altogether.

Commissioner Mike Morath told members of the House Public Education Committee that he doesn’t have the authority to suspend State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness requirements and if he does, the state could lose out on federal funding, which makes up about 10 percent of the state’s education budget. He said that delaying STAAR testing dates could also create further difficulties for school districts, including pushing the last day of school further into the summer and affecting summer school schedules.

READ: New survey shows widespread discontent with STAAR

Waiving testing requirements could also prevent students from getting the help they need, Morath said.

“The purpose of these assessments is to determine grade level mastery in reading and math. The purpose of the test is to inform us to what students know. Not issuing a test is … the same as not going to the doctor and checking your … blood pressure. It doesn’t really affect your blood pressure. It doesn’t change your health trajectory but it does blind you to that information,” Morath said, adding that he will make a final decision on potential testing changes in the next two weeks.

According to a Texas Education Agency survey of more than half of the 300 school districts affected by Harvey, most of them want to delay testing requirements by a week or less. About 70 of them wanted a two week or longer delay in testing.

Some members of the committee including Reps. Morgan Meyer and Linda Koop, both Dallas Republicans, said they were concerned that the test scores wouldn’t be an accurate representation of students’ performance.

“You had such a life changing circumstance, I don’t know if these tests can really be that accurate for these displaced students,” Meyer said.

Homes of about 19,000 students in Texas were damaged by Harvey, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Some officials from school districts affected by Harvey, including Aldine and Alief, told lawmakers that they’re okay with students being tested but would not like the test scores to be used against students or school districts.

Currently, fifth- and eighth-graders and high school students must pass the STAAR to advance to the next grade or graduate, although students who fail can appeal to committees of their teachers and parents to move on.

“Kids are resilient. Are they resilient enough to overcome this? I don’t think so. Teachers in the classroom and principals leading those teachers … are struggling mightily,” said H.D. Chambers, superintendent of the Alief school district.

Since the STAAR was first administered in 2012, critics have long considered the test too difficult for students. Test scores have remained relatively stagnant year over year. Parents have complained that the test has caused anxiety, forced teachers to focus on the test at the expense of subject matter, and punished students by holding them back a grade.

Texas students did worse on STAAR this year on all subjects except for math.

Also creating heartburn is how the state will evaluate school districts affected by Harvey based on the test scores.

READ: Texas schools and districts get their letter grades from state

Currently, the state gives school districts a label of met requirement or did not meet requirement.

“We don’t mind taking the exams but we don’t want to be … publicly humiliated over something we had no control over,” said Joseph Patek III, superintendent of the Aransas County school district.

If a school does not meet requirement 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 school districts in Harvey-affected counties that fall in this category.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Man arrested in stabbing in Southwest Austin, police said
Man arrested in stabbing in Southwest Austin, police said

Update 4:30 p.m.: Austin police have arrested a man accused of stabbing another person during a family disturbance at an apartment complex on Monterey Oaks Boulevard in southwest Austin. The victim, who was male, was taken to the hospital and received life-threatening injuries, said Austin Senior Police Officer Jeremy Bohannon. Police were notified...
Police: Man injured after shooting in East Austin
Police: Man injured after shooting in East Austin

Austin-Travis County EMS took a man in his 30s to the hospital after a shooting in East Austin, officials said Saturday. Austin Police responded at about 2 p.m. to the 8400 block of Garcreek Circle, Lt. Brian Moon said. Moon said the incident began as a disturbance and escalated. Medics took the man to Dell Seton Medical Center with a gunshot wound...
South Austin house fire kills pets, does $100,000 structural damage
South Austin house fire kills pets, does $100,000 structural damage

A fire that sparked after 3 a.m. Saturday did $100,000 in structural damage to a South Austin home and killed a dog and a cat, though the resident got out safely, Austin Fire reported. Flames were heavy in the front of the house in the 5800 block of South First Street, near Ben White Blvd., when firefighters arrived. Red Cross is assisting the resident...
New mural at 12th and Chicon unveiled
New mural at 12th and Chicon unveiled

Ten months after Chris Rogers’ mural at 12th and Chicon streets was painted over, sparking outrage from the community over what many saw as an act of gentrification, he will be back Saturday to present his new work at the same spot. In response to the controversy last summer, Austin’s black cultural district, Six Square, reached...
Australian priest reacts to Parkland shooting with swipe at US on church marquee 
Australian priest reacts to Parkland shooting with swipe at US on church marquee 

A rector at a church in Australia sent a pointed message to the United States this week in the wake of the shooting deaths at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, The Washington Post reported. On the marquee outside the Gosford Anglican Church, the Rev. Rod Bower posted the message, “When will they love their kids more than their...
More Stories