Post-Pandemic, Teachers Renew Calls to Revisit STAAR Test Uses

Even some superintendents are starting to question how much we rely on the test

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Shelbi Varnell taught second grade in North Texas but quit her job because she was so frustrated over her school's reliance on standardized test scores.

"How quick they were to label the students to be low, or 'They’re smart' or 'They’re high; we don’t have to worry about them,'" recalled Varnell. "There was a lot of, 'Well that’s the way we do it. We group by ability.'"

It makes sense, obviously, to help students who need more of it. But teachers like Varnell keep saying the reliance on the scores goes too far.

"I was responsible for science and social studies, and I was told math was so low we needed to cut social studies and science and focus more on math," she added.

She couldn't believe her subjects were being set aside because the scores were already good.

The Texas American Federation of Teachers says the learning losses from the pandemic are more of a reason not less, to do away and STAAR.

"It’s a great time to look at the value of the STAAR financially and otherwise because it’s punitive and not diagnostic," said Ray McMurrey with the Texas American Federation of Teachers. "We have a hundred-year history of testing students and we have to do it. The question becomes, 'Are we testing for the right reasons?'"

There was widespread support from superintendents across Texas to test with STAAR post-pandemic and see the extent of learning gaps and whether measures to fix them are working.

But even some superintendents are starting to question how much we rely on the test.

"The overemphasis that has been placed on these high stakes tests, it’s too much," said Jerry Hollingsworth, superintendent of the Waxahachie ISD.

Hollingsworth said testing matters but not to the point where teachers and students are feeling the amount of stress they do.

"The most important assessments for us are the assessments created by our teachers," said Hollingsworth.

The debate has raged on for years with no real end in sight of how much good or bad it does in keeping schools accountable and encouraging success.

The Texas Education Agency is responsible for the administration of the test and defends its use.

"STAAR results allow parents, teachers, and schools to see how individual students are performing so they can better support those students moving forward. Results also give education leaders and policymakers across Texas a comprehensive picture of how we are recovering, academically, from the pandemic. And STAAR is required by both state and federal law," said an agency spokesperson.

“Canceling STAAR this school year might seem like the easy decision for some, but it would be the wrong decision for our children, their families, and our state’s future," the spokesperson added.

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