AUSTIN, Texas — Education leaders remain divided over whether to administer Texas’ standardized test come the spring, even though several high stakes including A-F accountability ratings for school districts and matriculation requirements for certain grades have been removed. 

Mark Estrada, superintendent for the Lockhart Independent School District, doesn’t think too highly of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, on a normal day, but this year STAAR testing is especially concerning. While the majority of kids enrolled in the Lockhart ISD are back in the classroom, roughly 30% of students are still learning from home.

“I do believe there has to be a statewide system to monitor student learning. Whether STAAR is the way to do that is certainly debatable,” said Estrada. “My point is during this time, during a pandemic, I don’t feel it’s going to accomplish the task that it was designed to do.”

Estrada believes many students learning virtually won’t come back to campus to take the test when it’s administered in March and April. The test isn’t being offered online. He fears that’ll skew the results, even if some of the high stakes have been removed and the information is used purely for assessing learning loss amid the pandemic.

“I do have some concerns about the validity and reliability of the test that we’re giving,” commented Estrada. “The data, how do we interpret that data if we know that potentially it’s flawed.”

Nearly 70 Texas House members signed onto a letter penned by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-TX), requesting the Texas Education Agency commissioner seek a federal waiver to cancel STAAR for the 2020-2021 school year. The letter requested, at the very least, that the TEA remove the accountability ratings from the mix, which the agency announced earlier this month.

“There’s all kinds of politics and opinions in regards to the format of the test - is STAAR the right test?” said Kevin Malonson, executive director of Teach Plus Texas, a teacher leadership organization. “The fact of the matter is that it’s the test we have now.”

Malonson was one of roughly two dozen education leaders who signed onto a letter to the TEA requesting the agency continue to administer the STAAR in the spring, without the accountability ratings. He said teachers and education experts alike want and need to know where students are falling behind.

“The conversations we have with our teachers, when we talk about assessing their students, they’re 100% behind that. They need to know where their students are so they can figure out how to get them where they need to be,” said Malonson.

Estrada said he already knows where the learning loss exists in his district with assessments that have been given at the local level. He’d rather see the TEA use a year off to reimagine the state’s standardized test, “just like teachers have been forced to reimagine teaching.”

Malonson said the TEA is reworking STAAR as part of a bill passed by the state legislature in 2019. He said the state needs something to assess student learning loss now, and STAAR is the best available tool to do that.