In April, students across the state began standardized testing through a completely online format for the first time after legislators called for a revamped test in 2019.

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test students beginning in third grade and were administered online because of House Bill 3906, which was passed during the 86th legislative session in May 2019. In addition to switching the traditionally pencil-to-paper test to a completely online format, the redesigned test also features more question varieties and changes to written essay prompts. The new test also requires knowledge of subjects outside of the one being tested, according to information on the Texas Education Agency's website.

“The goal for the redesign was to align the assessment closer to the classroom experience,” a TEA spokesperson said in a May 5 email.

Community Impact submitted questions to the TEA regarding the recent rollout of the revamped STAAR tests. A TEA spokesperson submitted the following responses via email May 5. Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. For more information about the STAAR redesign, click here.

What did the STAAR redesign process entail?

TEA worked with a wide range of education stakeholders, including the Assessment Education Advisory Committee, to explore the most instructionally supportive approach to implement the redesign. Feedback from educators informed the main components of the STAAR redesign, and both educators and students provided input to ensure STAAR better reflected the classroom experience.

How has the rollout of the STAAR redesign gone thus far? What feedback has TEA received?

The administration of STAAR this year has gone smoothly. Of note, nearly 80% of STAAR tests were administered online last year, so school systems already had a degree of familiarity with administering the test online. TEA has received largely positive feedback from school systems and educators. The redesigned test offers more robust accommodations for students who need them, enables students to show their knowledge in different ways that align more closely with how they show subject matter proficiency in the classroom and moving forward will make results available more quickly.

How has the TEA ensured teachers statewide are equipped to prepare students for the redesigned STAAR?

TEA conducted extensive outreach and support to ensure that school systems were ready for the transition to online testing. The agency has provided robust guidance and resources for school systems to communicate information about the redesigned STAAR to parents and teachers. The agency also supported [Education Service Centers] and school systems in training their teachers about the STAAR redesign. Lastly, the agency supported school systems through both Operation Connectivity and grant opportunities to ensure they had the infrastructure in place for successful online administration.

How does online testing compare to traditional pencil-to-paper testing?

Online administration allows students to receive more robust accommodations, provides faster test results, improves test operations and allows new non-multiple-choice questions that allow students more opportunities to show what they know. Previous studies conducted for STAAR [end-of-course] assessments show that there is no significant difference in student performance by test mode with the exception of English I and English II, which is accounted for in the scoring process.

How has the TEA worked to ensure schools statewide have access to the technology necessary for online testing?

TEA recognizes that internet infrastructure is critical to the successful online administration of state summative tests. School systems were encouraged to continue to improve their online capabilities through resources available from state and federal funding mechanisms such as Operation Connectivity, the state Technology and Instructional Materials Allotment, and the federal E-Rate fund to support internet connectivity and fiber projects. TEA administered a $4 million grant intended to help school systems upgrade their network infrastructure to meet the recommended testing speeds. The TEA Online Testing Infrastructure Matching Grant funded one-time network infrastructure upgrades, including the purchase and installation of last-mile fiber connection or the best available alternative that will achieve the required bandwidth speeds. The grant also covered the purchase and one-time installation of internal connections necessary to achieve testing requirements.

What accommodations are available for students who are unable to complete STAAR online?

As mentioned above, online administration allows students to receive accommodations like those they get in the classroom. This video provides a comprehensive look at the robust accommodations available on the online testing platform students will use when taking the STAAR test. Students with extenuating circumstances that prevent them from testing online may qualify for a special administration on paper.

Why is standardized testing necessary?

Assessments provide teachers and parents with helpful information 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 Texas students' performance. Additionally, a statewide assessment is required by both state and federal law.

What would the TEA like parents, teachers and students to know about the STAAR redesign?

TEA would like to remind parents and students that [House Bill] 4545 eliminated all student-level grade promotion requirements, and STAAR is no longer a high-stakes test for students. STAAR is simply another tool to help teachers and parents understand how their child is doing and how to best support their learning.