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What's Going On With STAAR Testing This Year? Here's What We Know Right Now.

A student learns on his tablet during a class at Boone Elementary School in South Austin. He is one of a few children in a classroom, while many classmates participate via Zoom from home.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
A student learns on his tablet during a class at Boone Elementary School in South Austin. He is one of a few children in a classroom, while many classmates participate via Zoom from home.

Meagan Campos’ eldest child is a third-grader at Boone Elementary in the Austin Independent School District. This is the first year Charlotte will be required to take the state assessment, or STAAR, test. How that will happen during a pandemic is raising questions.

Typically, students take the test during the course of the school day, with teachers acting as proctors. But Charlotte has been learning remotely, and the Texas Education Agency says students cannot take the assessment at home, if only their parents are monitoring them.

So Campos is in a tricky position: Does Charlotte skip the test or does she go to school or a testing site, where she could potentially be exposed to COVID-19?

“There’s no way that I could explain to Charlotte, 'Hey, I know you’ve put everything you know about normal life on a shelf in a box and you can’t open it. We can’t see family, we can’t see friends,'” Campos said. “’But now you’re going to go and wear a mask and be around a bunch of people. We don’t know how you’re going to deal with the anxiety you’re going to have socially. And then we’re going to have to talk to you about how to take a standardized test.' It’s just too much.”

Like many other parents and guardians statewide, Campos questions why the test is being administered during a pandemic and why students must leave home to take it. Right now, she says, her school principal doesn’t have answers as he waits for guidance from the district.

Here's what we know about what's going on with the STAAR test this year.

Why do students even have to take the assessment? Last year, the federal government waived the assessment requirement because of the pandemic.

So far, the Biden administration hasn’t announced an option for states to opt out of testing. If it does say that's possible, Gov. Greg Abbott would have to apply for that waiver. BUT, Texas law requires students to take the STAAR test every year, so even if there is a federal waiver available, the test is still required by the state.

Is anything different about how the test will be used this year?

Yes. Typically, there are high stakes around this test. A student who fails can be held back. Schools where a majority of students fail could face state intervention. This year, there are no consequences for students or schools based on the test.

Frank Ward, a spokesperson for TEA, says the state still wants parents and teachers to see where students are at in their learning. He says parents and teachers may know generally how a student is faring during this strange school year, but the test will help be specific about where a student is doing well or struggling.

“Just knowing that they are struggling or behind, without being able to target it, doesn't really help the student get the help they need in the areas they need the most," Ward said, "and that's what STAAR does."

Do students have to go to a school building to take a test?

Not necessarily. While most students will take the STAAR on their school campus, there are other options. School districts will designate "testing facilities" to have more options besides the school building. TEA extended the testing window to five weeks, so districts can test smaller groups of students at the same time, ensuring social distancing.

Ward said there also is an option to stay home if a family doesn’t want to send their child to another site.

“A proctor could even come to the home of the student,” Ward said. “We already have situations that have existed for years, pre-pandemic, where there may be a health reason a student couldn’t be physically present on campus, but they’re still going to get that support.”

It will be up to individual school districts to assign proctors for home testing.

Can I just not send my kid? If so, will there be consequences?

If you don’t send your child to take the STAAR test, your child won't face consequences. Parents already opted their students out before the pandemic, just not on a massive scale. TEA guidance is unclear on whether school districts could lose money if a lot of families opt out. (One thing to keep in mind is school funding is based on attendance at different points throughout the year, not on how many students take a test.)

Got a tip? Email Claire McInerny at claire@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireMcInerny.

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