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Texas Students Will Still Take STAAR Tests In 2021, But Schools Won't Be Rated On Them

An empty classroom with arrows on the floor directing the flow of student traffic.
Allie Goulding
The Texas Tribune
The Texas State Board of Education sets curriculum standards for Texas public schools, and its makeup will change after Tuesday's election.

Texas public school students will still take the STAAR test this spring, but the state will not rate schools and districts based on their results, the Texas Education Agency announced Thursday.

The announcement comes as districts report alarming numbers of students failing at least one class this fall and thousands of students who have not showed up to online classes or turned in assignments. In normal years, Texas rates its schools and districts on a scale from A through F, based in large part on the scores students receive on the standardized tests.

“The pandemic has disrupted school operations in fundamental ways that have often been outside the control of our school leaders, making it far more difficult to use these ratings as a tool to support student academic growth. As a result, we will not issue A-F ratings this school year,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Thursday in a statement.

For months, school superintendents and advocates have called on state leaders to cancel the STAAR exams, which are administered to students in third through 12th grade each year. In November, lawmakers asked the TEA to ask for a federal waiver to cancel the standardized test.

Morath has continually rejected the idea of canceling the exams, arguing they are a useful way to determine how much learning students have lost during the pandemic. But he said in November that he was reviewing exactly how those student scores would be used to rate schools and districts.

In November, 12 superintendents joined business leaders to ask that Morath keep the STAAR in 2021 but suspend ratings. "We think it is critical for government leaders and policy makers to fully understand the extent and the disproportionate nature of COVID-19 learning loss that has likely occurred for our communities from limited income homes and our communities of color as they are asked to make critical and equitable resourcing and policy decisions for our state’s 5.4 million children in K-12," the letter stated.

Last spring, Texas applied for and received a waiver from the federal government allowing it not to administer the STAAR test. It is unclear whether President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will offer similar waivers in 2021.

Texas has already committed to allowing elementary and middle school students who fail the exams this spring to move up to the next grade, with district permission. Usually, student scores on the test determine whether high school students can graduate, whether some elementary and middle school students can move on to the next grade, and whether schools can remain open.

The Texas Tribune provided this story.

Aliyya Swaby started as the Texas Tribune's public education reporter in October 2016. She came to the Tribune from the hyperlocal nonprofit New Haven Independent, where she covered education, zoning and transit for two years. After graduating from Yale University in 2013, she spent a year freelance reporting in Panama on social issues affecting black Panamanian communities. A native New Yorker, Aliyya misses public transportation but is thrilled by the lack of snow.