East Texas students and teachers are preparing for this spring’s upcoming state standardized testing after the Texas Education Agency announced testing would return this year but scores will not affect districts’ or campuses’ A-F rating.

East Texas students and teachers are preparing for this spring’s upcoming state standardized testing after the Texas Education Agency announced testing would return this year but scores will not affect districts’ or campuses’ A-F rating.

East Texas superintendents and school officials said their students and teachers have been working to prepare for the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) tests despite the ongoing pandemic which has led to added student and teacher stress, as well as increased absences.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced last summer grade level promotion requirements from the STAAR would be waived, meaning fifth and eighth graders will not be held back from advancing to the next grade level if they fail the STAAR.

The TEA has also paused districts’ and campuses’ annual A-F ratings for the 2020-21 school year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so while the STAAR test will be administered, resulting grades will not be punitive.

The TEA said in a statement it was administering this tests this spring, “in order to provide critically important information about individual student learning that teachers and parents can use to help students grow.”

All students will be required to go on campus and take the STAAR test by pencil and paper, or via computer.

Marshall ISD Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Anika Perkins said the district has opted to administer the test online to students this spring.

“In Marshall ISD we opted to participate with TEA’s online state testing this year,” she said Thursday. “This provided the district a longer window of time for testing all students.”

Marshall ISD will begin administering the online STAAR test to students April 6-May 14 and campus officials will notify parents next month of specific dates for each grade and test section.

“Also, to ensure that we utilize this school year to provide our students with as much preparation for the future requirement — as TEA is moving all state assessments online next year — this school year the district has been conducting all of our local assessments online so that our students can be accustomed to this mode of testing well in advance,” Perkins said.

She said the district was not surprised by the TEA’s decision to administer the STAAR tests this school year after canceling the tests last spring when the COVID-19 pandemic first began.

“We are alright with TEA’s decision to still administer the test this school year,” Perkins said. “This provides the district with another data source to identify the individual needs of each student to ensure that our students are prepared academically. This school year our educators have been hard at work with assessing students’ needs and working to ensure students are caught up instructionally, all while working through the challenges the pandemic has created. We cannot thank our educators enough for the daily sacrifices they are making.”

Hallsville ISD Assistant Superintendent of Academic Leadership Shauna Hittle said the district has worked to overcome the challenges to learning the COVID-19 pandemic presented this year.

“The COVID-19 pandemic certainly has placed additional challenges on schools this year. While keeping staff and student safety a top priority, a strong instructional focus has also been maintained,” Hittle said. “Students continue to show growth and progress. Teachers have found it necessary to find innovative ways to provide enrichments and intervention for all students. Student success is always a priority for our teachers and staff so this year is no exception.“

Hittle said the district is pleased the tests scores will not be punitive this year.

“The TEA’s decision to not hold schools accountable in the same ways as pre-pandemic years is supported,” she said. “We will, however, use the data we get from the assessments to determine next steps in our instructional plans.“

While not surprised by the TEA’s decision, some East Texas school leaders were disappointed.

“I believe most students will not be prepared for the STAAR tests,’ Jefferson ISD Superintendent Rob Barnwell said Thursday. “I believe our students’ strengths and weaknesses must be discovered, and assessments are necessary for that purpose, along with determining each student’s academic progress, but I don’t believe the state assessment is necessary or the best way for us to determine that. Assessment and accountability should be handled at the local level, by each school district. But, I know that the state will always continue to be involved, just as they always have been.”

Waskom ISD Superintendent Rae Ann Patty also agreed with TEA’s decision to pause accountability ratings and also backed up Barnwell’s thoughts.

“Waskom ISD agrees the A-F accountability would not benefit our district this year,” Patty said. “We have encountered many situations where students have not had the opportunity to be in school due to illness or quarantine. The constant change of having to be at-home one day and at school another day disrupts the social emotional side of students and their families.”

Patty said students’ mental health status is just as important as their educational status.

“When our students are dealing with concerns and issues regarding their social emotional well being, it is difficult to learn,” Patty said. “The students battle each day to learn and close their own gaps in learning that COVID-19 has brought about. The data to know where our students are in relation to other students in Texas is helpful. However, we want to ensure their mental health is taken care of first along with implementing safety procedures to mitigate the virus for their physical health.”

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