Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday morning that he is suspending the requires for testing under the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, more commonly known as the STAAR test, for the 2019-2020 school year.
The announcement comes as districts across the state are suspending regularly scheduled classes for at least a week in order to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. On Friday, Abbott declared a state of emergency in Texas and authorized the use of all available and necessary state government resources to help address the situation.
“Your health and safety are top priorities, and the state of Texas will give school districts the flexibility to protect and ensure the health of students, faculty and their families,” Abbott said in a press release. “We will empower schools to make the best decisions to protect their communities from COVID-19.”
The test is given each year as a way of assessing individual students’ skills and performance across multiple grade levels in a variety of subjects, including reading, writing and math.
In the announcement, Abbott said he is working with the Texas Education Agency to ensure that schools continue to provide quality education to students throughout the epidemic. Through these efforts, the governor’s office said it hopes to provide adequate education for students so that they are prepared to move onto the next grade level at the end of the school year.
Locally, representatives for districts said they were in favor of the decision to waive the STAAR requirements for the year. Representatives for Sherman Independent School District said the decision allows the district to focus on what is important during an epidemic.
“COVID-19 is an unprecedented health challenge that is causing our state, local, and district leaders to make critical decisions,” SISD Director of Communications Kimberly Simpson said. “As we continue to navigate the rapid-changing COVID-19 situation, we are grateful that Governor Abbott supports that our immediate focus within our district has shifted.”
“The decision to waive state testing allows our district leadership, principals, and teachers to direct our full attention to assisting our community in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 in our area while providing our students with the resources they need during this time,”Simpson added.
Denison Independent School District Henry Scott said he has no idea how long the district will be closed. He said officials are in constant contact with Region 10, TEA and the CDC among other agencies to develop a plan. He said cancelling STAAR will go a long way in helping provide relief for districts during these stressful times.
“That will be helpful. We might not even be in school when they get started, anyway” Scott said. “We’ve been preparing (for the test) ever since we started school in August. We were prepared, that is not the issue. We are going to miss instruction for at least a week or maybe more. It would put us in a bind. I think it was a wise move on the governor’s part to cancel the test this year.”
It remains uncertain how long schools will remain shuttered during the coronavirus scare. The Texas Tribune is reporting that TEA Chairman Mike Morath held calls with superintendents across the state and said that districts in areas affected by the virus could stay closed for the remainder of the school year.
“It’s having an effect on families where you have both parents working,” Scott said. “If they have young children they don’t have anyplace to leave those kids. It is having an impact especially on those parents who have to stay home from work because they don’t have access to childcare. It is creating all kind of issues it is not simple.”
Scott said the district will look to at-home instruction if it turns into a long term situation. He said the meals will continue as long as the school remains closed. The district’s goal is to find the best way to take care of its students.
Meanwhile, Sherman said it will continue to monitor the situation across the state before making a long-term decision no later than March 20.
“Decisions on extending the closure will be made and communicated as soon as possinlt, but no later than this Friday, March 20,” Simpson said. “Teacher teams are designing paper-based and online lessons for use next week in the event of an extended closure.”
In a statement in response to Abbott’s declaration, the TEA said that the STAAR serves as a tool for assessing how well students are learning in the classroom.
“This year, though, it has become apparent that schools be unable to administer the STAAR as they would normally,” the TEA said in a press release. “TEA has already waived a host of regulations, allowing schools to quickly pivot to provide information and support in ways they never have before.
“We are thankful for Governor Abbott’s willingness to waive the STAAR requirement, as it allows the maximum flexibility to remain focused on public health while also investing in the capacity to support learning.”