By Will Johnson
EAST TEXAS – On Wednesday, Nov. 18, a letter from State Rep. Diego M. Bernal, from San Antonio was sent to Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath requesting the TEA to cancel the 2020-2021 administration of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exam.
Absent an outright cancellation, Rep. Bernal stated in a Twitter post, “At most, STAAR should only be used as a diagnostic tool, as opposed to determine sanctions under the A-F accountability system – or at least not use the assessment as a part of the state’s existing accountability system.”
Bernal serves as the vice-chair of the State House Public Education Committee. A total of 68 legislators have signed the bipartisan letter, including several from East Texas.
Among the lawmakers who have joined Bernal in signing the letter are: House District (HD) 57 Rep. Trent Ashby representing Angelina, Houston, Leon, Madison, San Augustine and Trinity Counties; HD 11 Rep. Travis Clardy, representing Cherokee, Nacogdoches and Rusk Counties; and HD 8 Rep. Cody Harris representing Anderson, Freestone, Hill and Navarro Counties.
The letter states:
“Commissioner Morath: We are writing to request that, for the 2020-2021 school year, the Texas Education Agency seek the waivers necessary from the United States Department of Education for federal testing and accountability requirements to cancel the administration of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exam. At most, any administration of the STAAR exam during the 2020-2021 school year should only serve as a diagnostic instrument to see where our students stand academically as opposed to an assessment instrument to determine district and campus sanctions under the current A-F accountability system.”
“As the Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency,” the correspondence continued, “you and your staff have witnessed firsthand the difficulties COVID-19 has presented to our educators, our students, and their families; in every aspect of life, nothing has been left untouched or unaffected by this pandemic. Given the agency’s understanding of the anticipated impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on public education in this State, we appreciate the agency’s foresight by waiving the Student Success Initiative promotion requirements for the 2020-2021 school year, however, we believe that the agency should also recognize that the effects of this ongoing pandemic extend beyond concerns regarding promotion and retention of students and will also impact an accountability system that heavily weighs campus and district performance on student achievement and growth.”
The letter also addressed what has come to be known as the COVID Slide.
“The COVID Slide, an academic deficit that the agency has widely recognized, has resulted in students, across the state, being behind grade-level in nearly every subject. Instead of proceeding with the administration of the STAAR exam as planned, the agency, along with our districts and campuses, should be focused on providing high-quality public education with an emphasis on ensuring the health and safety of students and educators. While data from the STAAR exam may be a good indicator of where our students are currently, the data should be used in a manner to chart a path forward as opposed to being used to sanction our districts and campuses,” the letter stated.
As of press time, there had been no response from the TEA or Commissioner Morath.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.