One of our union’s perennial priorities is ending the state’s over-reliance on high-stakes, standardized testing and assessment. In Texas, that means we need to talk about STAAR.
The Problems with STAAR
In or out of a pandemic, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams have numerous design flaws and a history of being misused. Research shows that large-scale standardized tests cannot provide student-level information and should not be used for high-stakes decision-making.
In February 2021, Reps. Gary VanDeaver and Alma Allen joined standardized testing experts and AFT union members to discuss the burden of STAAR.
At best, a test like STAAR may give a principal or teacher an idea of how students are understanding concepts. At worst, these improperly applied test scores are used to evaluate teachers, principals, schools, and school districts.
STAAR test results are boiled down to simplified A-F labels that the state can use to take over public schools and politicians can use to justify privatization efforts.
The Real Cost of STAAR
Aside from the mental and logistical strain that high-stakes testing has on teachers and students, the test costs the state hundreds of millions of dollars to conduct each year.
In 2021, Texas signed four-year contracts totaling $388 million with two separate vendors to develop and administer the STAAR test. These hundreds of millions spent on test development and administration should have gone directly into the classroom to help students who have struggled to catch up to grade level throughout the disruptions of the pandemic.
“There’s a real human cost to the amount of testing in our public schools. At-risk populations get tested more than their affluent neighbors, and the kids who need relationships the most are the first kids to lose those relationships to testing.”Katrina Rasmussen, Dallas ISD teacher
STAAR’s stated purpose is to hold students to a higher level of accountabilities and set the standard for what is expected from teachers, schools, and districts.
In practice, what it’s used for is punishment. There is no evidence that STAAR data is being used to make any curriculum changes whatsoever.
|How It’s Used
STAAR scores can be used to deny students the ability to advance to the next grade level or, in later grades, their high school diploma.
STAAR scores are used to monitor teacher’s performance. Test scores are a metric used in calculating merit pay, and unsatisfactory test scores can be used as justification for firing certain teachers.
STAAR scores are used as a metric for calculating school A-F ratings.
STAAR scores are used as a metric for calculating district A-F ratings. Poor A-F ratings can trigger a takeover by the Texas Education Agency of a democratically elected school board.
This flawed system only serves to penalize the most underfunded schools by labeling them failures and allowing for easier state takeover, which is how the system is intended to work.
‘Hard for Children to Succeed’
Part of the stress it causes for students and its inadequacy as a diagnostic tool is simple: STAAR is too hard.
In some cases, reading passages have been judged to be two to three years ahead of the tested grade level based on independent readability tests, including the Lexile scale. Passages in the third-grade reading tests have had features that would signify they were intended for a fifth-grade reading level, for example.
Hopefully, some of this is changing. STAAR has undergone a redesign that will take effect in Spring 2023. The redesign includes several new components, including:
- exclusive online testing and accommodations
- new item types
- cross-curricular reading passages
- evidence-based writing at each grade level
Why Do We Use STAAR?
Why do we even have STAAR? Because of criticisms from those with corporate interests that the previous Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exam was too easy and Texas students were “falling behind.”
The Texas Association of Business pushed for higher standards and tougher tests in an attempt to increase the education level of college graduates entering the workforce. STAAR was implemented in 2012 as a result.
The STAAR test does not exist because of education advocates; it exists because of corporate interests.
How Texans Feel About STAAR
What’s Actually Required?
Federal accountability policies require that states report a standardized test score in math and reading for every student in grades 3-8 and once in high school, as well as in science at least once in each of grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12.
Texas state law requires a few additional assessments: eighth-grade social studies, U.S. History, and English II.