Morath reflects on online learning, defends STAAR during interview
COVID-19 TEA | Commissioner | SBOE Testing | Accountability
Date Posted: 2/12/2021 | Author: Andrea Chevalier
On Thursday, February 11, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath sat down with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith to talk about how the pandemic has changed education in Texas and what we can expect moving forward. Here are some highlights of the conversation:
- Overall pandemic performance: Morath gave himself a grade of “B,” saying that there are always improvements that can be made. He told Smith he wishes the Texas Education Agency (TEA) could have rolled out remote learning supports faster, but Morath defends the agency’s decision to prioritize on-campus instruction, claiming that it has proven to be safe. According to data TEA has provided to the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), more than 104,000 students and 58,000 school staff have been infected with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, during which time roughly 50% of students have been receiving instruction on school campuses.
- Online learning: Morath said online learning is an improvement for only a small percentage of students who are participating in remote instruction, relative to the quality of instruction they received in a brick-and-mortar environment. Morath said, “On-campus instruction is where kids need to be the overwhelming majority of the time.” He added that we may see changes to high school instruction in the future to incorporate more online learning and hybrid models.
- Learning loss: Morath said learning loss is “the $70 billion question.” He referenced a four-year study on students in Texas who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina, noting districts that did intense interventions were able to catch students up in reading but not math. He also pointed out that there are personal and societal economic impacts that result from learning loss.
- Racial disparities: Morath said her would like to spend more time and attention on three things: 1) providing instructional materials that include on-grade-level content with remediation; 2) the need to make teaching a more “tenable” profession by supporting professional growth and reducing time spent working; and, 3) the need to look at school year length to “give people the gift of time.”
- Hold harmless: Morath said he will determine whether to extend the “hold harmless” provision that protects districts from funding losses due to unexpected pandemic-related drops in attendance. Morath said he expects to make a decision soon, though he said he agrees with the philosophy that the attendance-based funding system provides an incentive for districts to have kids on campus every day.
- Vaccination prioritization: Morath said he does not have any authority or involvement in COVID-19 vaccine prioritization for educators, but he believes the Phase 1B criteria actually cover a large population of educators. Phase 1B includes individuals over the age of 65 and those with certain serious underlying health conditions, some of whom are assumed to be educators. The criteria do not include all educators as a profession and do not allow educators to receive the vaccine unless they meet the additional criteria mentioned above.
- STAAR: Morath defended giving the STAAR test by arguing it is a tool for parents and teachers. He contended that he needs STAAR results in order to inform his own decisions as a father, such as deciding whether to have his daughter repeat her current grade level. Morath said we must “use every tool at our disposal” to “diagnose” where students are academically in order to make changes to meet our “moral commitment to children.” He noted that students can opt for remote instruction on standardized testing days and not take the test.
Watch an archived version of the Morath interview video here, and be sure to catch the Texas Tribune’s interview with new House Public Education Committee Chairman Harold Dutton (D-Houston), February 25.
Related: On the Texas Tribune today, education report Aliyya Swaby writes about whether students can opt out of taking STAAR tests this spring. For many students, Swaby writes, “There will be few consequences.” Read the February 12 article here.
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If Commissioner Morath is truly concerned about learning loss, then scale back the STAAR tests to only math and reading so other courses can continue to teach and educators can gauge what they need to do from subject to subject. Let us keep teaching, not testing.