Changes coming for embattled STAAR Test

The panel in charge of advising lawmakers on standardized testing in public schools has decided to re-structure the STAAR test. A draft of the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability report had suggested to replace it. The 15 member panel was put together after a law was passed during the last legislative session to establish it.

The panel had met six times before Wednesday’s vote.

Teresa Trevino, represents parents on the panel. She says she was frustrated by the process, “We had 53 different recs and eliminated half of them without a discussion.”

She also believes what’s being proposed doesn't go far enough. “What I saw happening in the classroom, not everywhere, and not universally, but there's so much stake on the test that classrooms shut down instruction and learn test-taking strategies. To me that's not what school should be about. It should be about learning the curriculum.”

Trevino was the only member of the panel to vote against the report. She says she couldn’t support the recommendations as a whole, because they mandated the tests still be the measure of success for students and teachers. Something that’s a source of anxiety around taking the tests.

“Research has indicated that when you place stakes, there is a bump up in scores but then the kids don't care, and when you get in high school and the kids fail that test six or seven times, they are going to drop out because they know they can't graduate.” And Trevino adds, “the answer would be do something to try to help the situation now. in my mind that was remove the stakes, let's still test for achievement, let’s still report back and be accountable.”

Trevino, a mother of two, also says the panel never talked about how to handle tests for kids with special needs. In March, more than 14,000 STAAR tests across Texas had computer issues. “They were talking about the number 1 recommendation being these computerized adaptive tests and I said well, given the glitches we saw. I don't know if the state's willing to move on that, first of all, and secondly not all of the schools have broadband.”

In May, a FOX 7 investigation revealed many of the testing coordinators problems with the test, and issues with its vendor, E.T.S.

The panel isn’t tasked with addressing the STAAR tests glitches, That’s up to the Texas Education Agency. Its Commissioner, Mike Morath, has said publicly the vendor, E.T.S. will be fined. In an email to FOX 7, a spokesperson for the T.E.A. says, “a final decision regarding specific penalties that will be assessed to E.T.S. has not been made at this time.”

“You have to have a testing system if you are going to have an accountability system,” says State Representative Jimmie Don Aycock. He chairs the House’s Public Education Committee. He sits on the panel too. He adds of the STARR test, “and it takes a good many years to develop that system. It's already developed. It's bought and paid for and we hate to abandon it completely.”

And Aycock doesn’t think the state will abandon standardized testing any time soon, “I think we will use testing for the foreseeable future. Everyone wants to know how their kid is doing, how the school is doing, how the system is doing. So we are going to do that in the way that's least intrusive to the children and their lives. And finding that balance is the difficult part.”

Key recommendations from the panel’s report:

  • Making the STAAR test shorter but given more frequently during the school year: 3-4 times instead of 1
  • Changing the types of questions on the tests
  • Letting school districts develop their own way of testing writing ability

The panel’s complete list of recommendations must be submitted to Governor Greg Abbott by September first. Lawmakers could consider them during an interim session next year.