Texoma students will return to the classroom for 2021 STAAR

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Governor Greg Abbott announced that the grade promotion requirement related to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test for students in grades 5 and 8 has been waived for the upcoming school year.

The Texas Education Agency recently released guidance to districts, who will be required to administer the STAAR test in-person this year in spite of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and Texoma schools are taking steps to ensure students are safe when they take standardized tests on campus this spring.

This will mark the first time that the STAAR test has been administered since 2019. The requirement for the annual test was waived last year during the early days of the pandemic.

"With COVID, everyone is navigating and trying to make decisions without prematurely making decisions. Everyone is just navigating," said Regina Prigge, Denison Independent School District director of assessment and special programs.

Prigge said students who are currently studying through distance learning will be required to take the test in person in either a paper or online format.

DISD officials first learned that the STAAR would be required this school year some time near the new year. Prigge said the state decision likely was based on security and concerns about the integrity of the test.

Distance learners will return to the classroom for the annual STAAR test following guidelines from the Texas Education Agency

"We've always been required to train our test administrators on test security, confidentiality and administration procedures. All of those are still in place," she said. "The security and confidentiality is probably what is driving the on-campus administration." 

Despite the unprecedented time, the test will likely be administered similarly to how it has always been given in Denison. Elementary students will take the test in their normal classroom. Secondary and high school campuses may consolidate space with multiple students or classes.

In both cases, the district is confident it can do so while keeping students safe and distant, Prigge said.

Currently, the district has 589 students learning remotely and another 229 are quarantining due to COVID-19 infection or exposure. Distance learners will not the test in the same room as students who are learning on campus. However, Prigge didn't give specific details on the arrangement.

The State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests are an array of high stakes, multi-hour exams in math, reading, writing, history and science.

"Depending on the numbers, we will certainly spread out with the social distancing and at least six feet apart," she said.

On the state level, education officials have made several changes for how the test will be administered in 2021.

No change in how it has done it itself, but districts are being offered waivers to allow students who are not testing to participate in distance learning for up to five days during the testing period.

Meanwhile, the testing period has been expanded from two to five weeks to allow districts time to safely administer the test.

Other traditional requirements have been waived for 2021's tests. The Student Success Initiative, which require fifth and eighth-grade students to pass math and reading portions in order to move up to the next grade level, have been waived.

Prigge is not certain how these waivers could affect Denison as the district is still considering its options.

Officials with Sherman Independent School District declined to comment on the STAAR requirements or its plans for the 2021 test for this this story.