Insights on the STAAR Grade 5 and 8 decision

On Friday, June 10, 2016, I announced that as a result of ongoing reporting issues with the state’s testing vendor, the state will be removing student consequences attached to State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) for fifth and eighth-grade students for the 2015-2016 school year. In addition, I also announced that fifth and eighth-grade retest administration scheduled for June 21st and 22nd would be cancelled.

My decision sparked many questions from parents, teachers and school administrators. To provide greater context into what led to my decision, I’m sharing a few of those questions – with my response – on my blog.

1.    What were the circumstances that led your decision?
School districts are in the beginning stages of implementing accelerated instruction for students struggling to demonstrate grade-level proficiency on the STAAR exam.  For many, this means summer school, but ETS has not returned STAAR scores from the May 5th & 8th grade retest for some students in a number of districts. This has caused many districts and parents a large amount of confusion, as the districts don’t precisely know which students would be statutorily required to enroll in these summer learning programs and parents haven’t had results for their kids. Early last week, we were actively monitoring the situation, and we believed that all results would be returned to schools by Thursday. On Friday, we were given additional information confirming that hadn’t happened; therefore we had to take action to provide clarity to districts and parents for the affected students. Given the delays from ETS, we issued guidance encouraging districts to make accelerated instruction decisions entirely on their own, rather than wait and attempt to guess at STAAR results that hadn’t yet been received. Effectively, this meant exempting districts and their students from using STAAR results for this process.

2.    How do these STAAR issues differ for Grades 5 and 8 versus those in Grades 3, 4, 6, and 7?
The reporting delays apply equally to all grades and subjects.  But 5th and 8th grade students are the only grades in 3-8 subject to retest.  It is the follow-up required actions from STAAR that we’ve suspended, not the tests themselves.

3.    Do you plan to use these scores for any other purposes such as school accountability?

At present, yes. We will proceed with campus and district accountability ratings as outlined in statute for the 2015-2016 school year.  However, we will continue to monitor the situation, and we will provide any additional updates regarding accountability.

4.    Why announce your decision on a Friday?
With regard to the timing of the announcement, we decided to issue the letter and news release immediately – right after the decision was made – to inform parents and ensure school systems had as much time as possible to decide on summer school enrollment.

I hope this provides some additional context for my decision. As a parent, I certainly understand the interest regarding all public education issues – but particularly those that relate to testing. To read the June 10th announcement on the Texas Education Agency website, visit http://tea.texas.gov/About_TEA/News_and_Multimedia/Press_Releases/2016/Commissioner_Morath_waives_grade_5_and_8_student_retesting_and_retention_requirements/.

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath
 June 13, 2016