Texas cancels A-F school accountability grades for 2020-21 school year, keeps STAAR testing

The Texas Education Agency announced that A-F grades for schools will not be given out for the 2020-21 school year due to “ongoing disruptions associated with COVID-19.”

Though the school grades were put on hold for this school year, STAAR testing will go on as normal “in order to provide critically important information about individual student learning that teachers and parents can use to help students grow.”

With a second school year that's been turned on its heads, schools will once again get a respite from the controversial campus rating system.

Unlike last year, students will be given the STAAR test, but the results will not be used to hold students back.

The TEA made the announcement Thursday afternoon with Education Commissioner Mike Morath explaining the state decided to pause rating campuses because the pandemic has brought too many circumstances that are beyond a school's control.

However, the commissioner said that the STAAR is recognized as vital to giving education leaders and policymakers a realistic look at where students are academically in light of an unprecedented pandemic.

It will be up to individual school districts if they use the results for evaluating teachers.

“I think this will be a welcome relief for everybody. It’s an unusual time, and so we just kind of need to get through this,” said Dallas ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa. “Just the fact that this accountability has been backed off, they needed some breathing room.”

Teachers’ unions across the metroplex are glad to hear the news as well.

“Finally some common sense out of Austin when it comes to student performance and expectations in the middle of a pandemic,” said Steven Poole with the United Educators Association.

Alliance-AFT President Rena Honea says she is thankful the state listened to educators about removing the high stakes from the STAAR.

“The commissioner has realized that with unprecedented times, disruptions to learning, connectivity, parental support, so many variables that cannot be accounted for, it just makes sense that A-F would be put on pause,” she said.

It’s a year where many school districts are seeing historic learning loss.

This week, Fort Worth ISD reported more than half of second through eighth graders are falling behind.

Dr. Hinojosa says Dallas ISD is seeing similar learning losses

“Very significant in math. Literacy is holding its own. We’re doing ok. Math is definitely. But it’s not just us. It’s the county. It’s the state. It’s the country. Everybody’s seeing this.”

The STARR test will still go on, but it will not be used for accountability this year. Still, some teachers would rather see the test gone too.

“Teachers are already doing this work right now. They know where their students are and they know where their students need to catch up,” Poole said. “So a high stakes test, even if there is no accountability, is kind of pointless in the middle of a pandemic. The teachers are already doing the work.”

And there are concerns how the test will be administered securely and safely, which for some districts may mean students returning in-person to take it.

“Mandating students would have to come into a building to take a test because it has to be secure and they don’t feel like they can do it online does not make a lot of sense when we are trying to keep people safe,” Honea said.

But Dr. Hinojosa believes there’s still some value in the STAAR test.

“If we don’t even have a measure, how are we going to know how much we grew? And that’s what worries me that this lost year is going to impact several years down the road. That’s what I’m really worried about,” he said. “Especially if these kids fall further behind, how do we catch them up if we don’t even know where they are?”

Honea says Dallas ISD will likely be deciding if it will use STAAR results to evaluate teachers this year next month. She says there are questions about how students who have chosen to remain virtual will be able to safely come to a campus to take the test in person.

The TEA will require the test be administered in a secure environment and not in homes.

The state says school systems are required to make the STAAR available to every student, but it does not say students will be required to take it.