Texas Education Commissioner addresses STAAR failure at Wednesday’s SBOE meeting
School Finance Congress | Federal COVID-19 TEA | Commissioner | SBOE Testing | Accountability
Date Posted: 4/14/2021 | Author: Mark Wiggins
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath acknowledged last week’s STAAR failure in a presentation Wednesday, April 14, to members of the State Board of Education (SBOE).
As we shared on our blog last week in an article republished from the Texas Tribune, thousands of students were unable to access the state-mandated STAAR tests last Tuesday due to technical problems. The commissioner told the SBOE he took full responsibility for the failure, which he attributed to a database problem with the state’s testing vendor ETS. In a statement shared with lawmakers last week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) was quick to point the finger at ETS after the problems arose and many students were sent home unexpectedly on the first scheduled day of testing. Morath told SBOE members the state has ended its relationship with ETS and will not be utilizing the vendor for any future tests.
ATPE notes that a new contract for administration of the STAAR tests was already executed before the testing problems occurred last week. The new vendor, Cambium Assessment, has been awarded a three-year state contract to take over the administration of the STAAR tests from ETS starting in the 2021-22 school year, as reported back in January of this year.
Discussing the testing failure publicly with SBOE members today, the commissioner reiterated that STAAR results will not be used for grade promotion or school accountability ratings this year. ATPE and a bipartisan coalition of elected officials have consistently advocated for the STAAR to be canceled altogether this year, but the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has insisted on requiring the exam.
Asked by board Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) whether students will be penalized if they choose not to take the STAAR, Morath stated that doing so would be “against the law.” Cortez noted that some students have been told they will not be eligible to enroll in advanced courses if they do not sit for the STAAR exam, to which TEA staff responded that decisions regarding course prerequisites are determined at the school district level.
Additionally, Commissioner Morath told the board during his Wednesday morning update that recovering from the learning loss students experienced as a result of the transition to fully remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic will require a “multi-year investment,” a significant portion of which should be aimed at supporting educators.
“Thankfully, financial resources are not constraining our response,” said Morath, pointing to roughly $20 billion in federal funding made available for Texas schools.
The first tranche of funding under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) included roughly $2 billion in funding that TEA used last spring to offset state spending while maintaining school funding at existing levels during the economic downturn. Two subsequent rounds of federal funding, referred to as “ESSER 2” and “ESSER 3,” add up to roughly $18 billion and have yet to be made available to Texas public schools.
Morath informed board members that maintenance of effort (MOE) requirements tied to ESSER 2 and ESSER 3 have raised questions that require further guidance from the federal government before TEA is able to distribute the funds, as the agency wishes to avoid a situation in which failure to comply with the MOE requirements results in the federal government clawing back a portion of that funding.
The commissioner did not provide a timeline as to when that guidance may be provided, nor would he commit to distributing the funding directly to districts in response to a question by board Member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood). Read more about the ongoing debate over allocation of the federal relief funds in this related Teach the Vote blog post.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth) pointed out the importance of the required 22-1 student-teacher ratio and pressed the commissioner on whether TEA would protect the class-size cap or provide waivers. The commissioner demurred and said he was unaware of whether the agency had received any such waiver requests.
The board is scheduled to meet through Friday of this week, with the majority of its time spent reviewing the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for science.
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