For the first time since the pandemic, Texas schools will again be rated based on standardized tests. But for one year only, schools that receive a D or F will get a “not rated” label.
For the first time since the pandemic began, Texas public schools will be rated based on how students score on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness — more commonly known as the annual STAAR test.
It’s the latest big step toward normalcy for the state’s 8,866 public schools — which includes 782 charter schools — since the COVID-19 pandemic forced school closures in early 2020.
But this year’s ratings come with a few changes. For this year only, schools will receive an A-C rating. Districts and schools that score D or F will receive a “Not Rated” label instead. Schools who fall in those bottom tiers will also evade possible sanctions from the Texas Education Agency during the 2022-2023 school year.
The news comes as thousands of students in grades 3 through 12 are taking the exam this spring. Last year, students had the option to take the STAAR test and results were not held against them or the district.
The ratings, those letter grades affixed on school buildings across the state, are typically released by the Texas Education Agency in August. But when the coronavirus began appearing in the United States more than two years ago, schools were shut down and as a result, standardized testing school testing was canceled for the year.
The new A-C rating this year will allow districts that still have a D or F from 2019 to have a shot of getting a better grade.
Schools and districts are graded on three criteria: student achievement, student progress and how well the school is closing its learning gaps. Student achievement and progress weigh the most and STAAR results are how the agency measures progress. Students are tested on different subjects: reading, math, science and social students.
“STAAR results allow parents, teachers and schools to see how individual students are performing so they can better support those students moving forward,” Frank Ward, a TEA spokesperson said. “There is extensive evidence that the process of setting reasonable goals for schools and publicly reporting on progress towards those goals improves the kinds of academic supports our students receive.”
Last year, STAAR results showed that the pandemic had a significant impact on student learning with far lower scores than before the pandemic, especially when it came to math. Also, schools that relied more heavily on online class instruction had students who scored significantly lower than those school that were able to open and offer in-person instruction.
There’s fear that this year’s test scores may be impacted again because of pandemic-related school closures and teacher absences that occurred during surges in infection caused by the delta and omicron variants of the coronavirus.
Even though the rating system has been changed this year, not everyone is a fan of the school rating system to begin with.
Matthew Gutierrez, superintendent of the Seguin Independent School District, near San Antonio, believes the STAAR will be helpful to gauge students’ academic level, but the letter grades should’ve been postponed this school year as well because of the continued COVID-19 distruptions. Seguin, along with other districts, had teachers and substitutes out with COVID-19 during the omicron surge this past winter.
“We had students who went days without support from their certified teacher,” he said. “You had situations where you were combining classrooms and having really creative staffing, so it’s not optimal for learning.”
Gutierrez is also concerned about the “Not Rated” label. He said if a district scored an F in 2019 and then a D this school year, that district won’t get credit for that progress.
Monty Exter, a lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said the accountability system coupled with the STAAR test incentivizes schools to teach for the test instead of taking a holistic approach to teaching.
“Teaching people how to test is frankly a completely worthless skill,” Exter said.
Lawmakers and teacher unions called on the state to scrap the exam again for this spring, citing that teachers and administrators are still feeling the effects of the pandemic and the STAAR would put added pressure during another tumultuous year.
“The STAAR test administration is cumbersome and time-consuming,” Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, said earlier this year in a written statement. “Parents and educators share concerns about learning loss and the need to support our children after two years of disruption.”
Disclosure: Association of Texas Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Photo: Students work at laptops on their desks at Chapa Middle School in Kyle on Aug. 24, 2021. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune