House: Fewer STAAR tests coming

May 8, 2017

Texas students would have to take fewer STAAR tests under a measure overwhelmingly passed by the House on Wednesday night.

The move is part of growing efforts aimed at significantly rolling back the state’s reliance on standardized testing.

This week, the chamber also approved changes to accountability measures that limit STAAR tests to no more than 50 percent of grades for schools.

Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, said his bill was designed to address concerns that Texas is overtesting its kids.

The legislation, which received only one “no” vote, would significantly scale back the number of tests to only those required by federal government.

“This is a great step in eliminating high-stakes testing,” VanDeaver said.

The bill eliminates writing tests in fourth and seventh grades and social studies tests in the eighth grade.

High school tests would be reduced from five to three, cutting the history and English II tests.

Brownfield ISD Superintendent Dr. Tanya Monroe said she is in favor of easing the testing burden, but added that more information is needed.

“Yes, the STAAR tests certainly need to be revised to reduce that stress on students, teachers, and parents,” she said. “But a suggestion we’re hearing is to use SAT or ACT scores and passing that cost along to the districts as an unfunded mandate. I don’t know how many more of those any school district can afford.”

The measure that passed the House on Wednesday also cuts provisions in current law that prevents kids in fifth and eighth grades who fail STAAR from being promoted unless a committee allows them to do so.

VanDeaver said he’s not opposed to testing children to get a sense of what they’re learning, but he called the provisions “troubling.”

Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, supported the bill but said Texas needs to cut tests altogether. He urged the Legislature to study doing so during the interim.

Also on Wednesday, the House tentatively approved House Bill 22 by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, that would delay the implementation of the A-F accountability system until 2019 and cut down the number of categories under which schools are graded, from five to three.

Districts and campuses will not receive an overall grade, either. The bill also ensures all school districts and campuses can receive an A.

School district officials have criticized the A-F accountability system approved in 2015.

House Bil 22 would reduce the number of categories under which schools will be graded.

Under the current accountability system, districts and schools either meet or fail to meet state requirements.

In 2015, the Legislature approved a new accountability system that would give school districts and campuses a letter grade — A through F — in several categories and an overall grade.

School district officials pushed back, saying the system’s letter grades are vague, put too much emphasis on standardized test scores and are meant to stigmatize public schools.

“We need accountability in the state of Texas but we need to make it meaningful. We need to make sure that people understand what this does,” Huberty said from the floor.

The system is slated to go into effect in August 2018, but as required by the law, the Texas Education Agency released scores in January, based on test scores and other data measured in the 2015-16 school year.

The scores were supposed to give school officials a taste of what’s to come but prompted even more criticism.

Dr. Monroe told the Brownfield News more work is needed by the legislature that will establish a fair accountability system for districts statewide.

“The A-F system, as it it stands, is unacceptable to pretty much everyone, whether they scored low or high in the first rankings,” she said. “I’m glad the legislature is taking some feedback from the districts across the state and considering a delay on rolling it out. We need more time to flesh it out and implement it.”

The BISD Superintendent said her peers in education are not resistent to accountability.

“We don’t mind accountability,” she said. “We need it, but the A-F system just doesn’t work. That’s already been proven. It doesn’t even match-up with what the legislature says it wants in an accountability system. They need to work that out.”

Supporters of the A-F system say that it transparently and comprehensively measures the performance of districts and campuses statewide.

Under the current system, school districts and campuses either meet or fail to meet state requirements based on performance measures, most of which are similar to those being implemented in the A-F system.

“As HB 22 makes its way through the legislative process, there is still a chance to make meaningful collaborative improvements in the A-F system to benefit students. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen today,” said Courtney Boswell, executive director of the Austin-based education policy group Texas Aspires.

The House is expected to approve HB 22 in a final vote and send the bill to the Senate.

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Category: Updates