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TEA suspends letter-grading system

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TEA GraphicFILE PHOTO TEA Graphic

STAAR test will still commence, according to agency

By Chris Edwards

AUSTIN – The Texas Education Agency announced on Thursday, Dec. 10, that it will pause its A-F accountability ratings for the current school year.

The ratings system, which has been in place since 2018, is being paused due to the ongoing disruptions associated with COVID-19, according to a news release from the agency. On the other hand, the STARR test will proceed for the school year “In order to provide critically important information about individual student learning that teachers and parents can use to help students grow,” according to TEA.

The letter grade accountability system, which was adopted statewide after being passed into law by the 85th Texas Legislature, gives each school district a letter grade based on a number of criteria. The practice came with controversy from many educators and officials, but proponents argued that the system makes for a simple, transparent way for the public to understand how effective schools are.

“The issuance of A-F ratings for schools has proven to be a valuable tool to support continuous improvement for our students,” said TEA Commissioner Mike Morath.

Morath said that the past nine months have been “some of the most disruptive of our lives,” as educators and administrators have struggled to find ways to keep students learning while continuing to try and curb the spread of the coronavirus. “The challenges have been especially pronounced for our parents, teachers and students. We continue to prioritize the health and safety of students, teachers and staff in our schools this year, while working to ensure students grow academically,” Morath said.

Although the letter grades will be paused this year and the STAAR testing will continue, Morath said the STAAR will not be used toward accountability purposes for this school year.

Morath said the test will serve as a comprehensive picture to demonstrate what might be sweeping impacts of the pandemic upon student learning, and to help policymakers craft solutions for the coming years ahead.

Morath said in the news release that the test will be administered on school campuses statewide, or at other secure alternative testing sites.

During the summer, a large group of state lawmakers asked Gov. Greg Abbott and TEA to suspend STAAR testing to some degree. One of the lawmakers who spoke out was State Rep. James White (R-Hillister.)

White, a former educator, said that the first concern for educators should be for the students’ safety and health, and that any rating based on STAAR testing during the current school year would provide questionable results.

“The Legislature did not devise the current accountability system in the paradigm of a pandemic that has created a bifurcated instructional delivery system…with vast swathes of rural Texas disconnected from the 21st century means of global connectivity,” White wrote in a letter to Morath dated July 16, 2020.

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