Public education is a central topic in the 2023 Texas Legislative session, and education advocacy organization Raise Your Hand Texas hopes to see changes to how the state’s Assessment and Accountability system measures academic success.

The current A-F rating system in Texas uses STAAR scores as the only factor in determining a quality school at the elementary and middle school level. However, the 2022 Charles Butt Foundation Texas Education Poll found that 56% of Texans are not confident in the STAAR test and that 83% of Texans believe the Texas Education Agency should not base its A-F letter grades for public schools entirely on STAAR test scores.

Raise Your Hand Texas Senior Director of Advocacy Libby Cohen said the dependency on limited-perspective standardized testing for schools’ public-facing letter grades does a disservice to teachers, students, public schools, and communities.

“We think that a more well-rounded set of indicators will give us that richer picture of whether or not schools and districts are really paying attention to all the different levers that they can be pushing to help give students a solid foundation for success in academics and career,” Cohen said.

Advocating for change

Leander ISD Elementary Language Curriculum Arts Specialist Andrea Greene has been teaching in Texas since 2005. During her tenure, she has worked at the classroom, campus, and district levels and said she noticed tension present at all levels.

“One thing that holds true is the spoken and unspoken tension of state accountability and assessment,” she said. “That pressure that is felt all the way down to the classroom level has been evident in all the positions I’ve served in.”

The 2022 Charles Butt Foundation Texas Education Poll also found that 81% of teachers say the pressure placed on students to perform well on standardized tests is a significant barrier to teaching.

Greene said at its core, teaching is assessing, and she firmly believes in the power and importance of assessment and accountability. The problem is not with assessment as a practice and expectation: the issue is the high-stakes nature of the tests, she said.

Greene said measuring student growth over time would have a positive impact on reducing the amount of anxiety students and teachers feel to perform well on the STAAR test.

“[By reducing that anxiety] both students and teachers would enjoy the experience of learning and school in the way it was intended,” she said. “School is the place we get to make mistakes, and all experiences are learning experiences.”

For students who struggle with the STAAR test, HB 4545 from the 2021 legislative session is an issue. The executed legislation requires students who did not pass the STAAR test to complete 30 hours of additional tutoring outside their normal classroom schedule.

Greene said HB 4545 is prescriptive and based on information teachers were not involved with.

“It’s not based on real time data, it’s based on one assessment, on one day, months ago,” she said. “For everyone else, we expect to see a body of work over a test of time to measure effectiveness and proficiency. I think children eight to 13 years old deserve the same opportunities.”

Cohen said elementary and middle school campuses in Texas are in acute need of accountability system reform because 100% of the school’s letter grade is based on STAAR testing in those grade levels.

Additionally, these standardized tests cannot account for extracurricular and co-curricular involvement which are vital to long-term academic success, according to the Raise Your Hand Texas Measure What Matters Report.

The STAAR format changed again for the 2022-23 school year, and students taking the test during the spring 2023 testing window will be the first to experience the redesigned assessment.

Greene said the test results are not a true measure of what is going on in the building and do not provide the public with an accurate perception of the school.

“Families refer to the school in their community as ‘good’ when their students are and feel safe, welcomed and valued,” she said. “Families measure student and school success by whether their students are growing across the curriculum and by the co-curricular experiences and resources available to their students during the school day to meet the needs of their kids.”

Greene said long-term student success begins with providing accurate information about the school over time.

“We need to figure out ways for adults in the community to have the information that tells the truth about the quality of education kids are receiving and knowledge they are getting,” she said. “[With this information] students in every classroom, school, and district would have a more authentic learning experience from the first day to the last day.”

Local reform

Greene said that when schools thrive, communities thrive.

“People and businesses move to areas for schools, which also affects the available workforce in the area,” she said. “What’s good for schools is good for communities—it’s a symbiotic relationship.”

To move toward a rating system that helps schools and communities thrive, Greene said the A-F report card model needs to be tweaked.

“Students get a mark in every subject area [on their report cards], so we need to do the same for schools,” she said. “[Measuring] more areas of information is the only way to make that report card rating system work.”

Greene said it is not acceptable to be judged on a one-day performance and that an accurate measurement of effectiveness and proficiency takes time.

“Nobody wants an entire year of their life marked by how you performed on one day,” she said. “I would want to see a body of work over a test of time.”

Raise Your Hand Texas’ policy recommendations

Raise Your Hand Texas believes the accountability system for public schools should accurately measure student progress, and to do that, Texas’ assessment and accountability system needs to establish a middle ground.

What does this mean for local schools? The organization reported that the most effective assessments are low-stakes, identify strengths and weaknesses, and inform instruction throughout the school year.

Raise Your Hand Texas supports real-time assessments that inform instruction, measure individual progress, and serve as one of multiple measures reflecting a student’s entire educational experience, rather than depending on the single high-stakes STAAR test.

The organization’s overall goal is to find a way to more effectively measure students’ academic success without the sole dependency on a high-pressure test.

Raise Your Hand Texas' Policy Recommendations include:
  • Removing all high-stakes testing consequences for students.
  • Limiting STAAR test scores to 50% of any domain or the overall score for districts and schools in the state’s accountability ratings system.
  • Expanding the scope of Texas’ A-F accountability ratings system to include factors beyond STAAR test scores.
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