With nearly 30 coronavirus cases confirmed in the Greater Houston area as of March 16, many school districts, including Spring ISD, have closed in hopes of slowing the virus's spread and encouraging social distancing and self-quarantining. As the future of the spring semester remains unclear for many of these school districts, in addition to waiving STAAR testing requirements, Abbott said he is requesting that the department of education waive federal testing requirements for the 2019-20 school year.
“Your health and safety are top priorities, and the state of Texas will give school districts flexibility to protect and ensure the health of students, faculty and their families,” he said in a statement. “We will empower schools to make the best decisions to protect their communities from COVID-19.”
According to SISD officials, while student academic growth remains a priority for SISD, the waiver allows the district to begin thinking more creatively about how to bring learning to students outside of the classroom.
"We appreciate at respect Gov. Abbott's announcement that STAAR testing requirements will be waived for the 2019-20 school year," Chief Communications Officer Tiffany Dunne-Oldfield said in a statement. "His message about empowering schools to focus on the health of students, teachers and staff is exactly what was needed right now. There is so much uncertainty about what each day will bring, it’s helpful to have a decision on the state’s STAAR annual testing requirement so early on in what looks to be an unprecedented length of time for Texas schools to be closed. Knowing what’s happening with this year’s STAAR testing will allow us to be more creative in rethinking how learning opportunities and family supports can and should be provided to students during the school closure period."
Dunne-Oldfield added that SISD plans to get reading resources and materials out to families with easy-to-understand tips and guidelines over the next few weeks, followed by a more comprehensive expansion of remote learning opportunities set to launch April 1. However, Dunne-Oldfield said barriers to technology access will be an issue for many SISD families.
"Many of our students do not have computers at home and/or have limited Internet," she said in a statement. "While we are pleased to see many area internet providers offering free, unlimited service during this challenging time, some of our students and families will still face internet-access limitations despite these offers. Those are the kinds of challenges we are facing as we plan to provide remote learning opportunities for our students."
While many local school districts will likely face similar challenges, Abbott said he is working closely with the Texas Education Agency to ensure schools continue to deliver instruction to students while schools are closed due to coronavirus, which includes tailored instruction for students with special needs. The TEA likewise released a statement regarding Abbott's March 16 decision.
The statement reads:
"In normal times, STAAR serves as an invaluable tool to accurately and reliably diagnose how well students have learned to read, write and do math. This information is used by parents to support the academic growth of their children, and by educators to adjust how they approach teaching to maximize student learning.
This year, though, it has become apparent that schools will be unable to administer STAAR as they would normally. TEA has already waived a host of regulations, allowing schools to quickly pivot to provide instruction and support in ways they never have before. We are thankful for Governor Abbott's willingness to waive the STAAR testing requirement, as it allows schools the maximum flexibility to remain focused on public health while also investing in the capacity to support student learning remotely."
For more information about SISD and its response to coronavirus, click here.