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

In Denton ISD, EP Rayzor Elementary School is seeing the negative effects of the STAAR-based A-F rating system.

EP Rayzor Principal Sarah Critton said student success drives everything the elementary school does, and STAAR results do not capture the full picture.

“We want to provide the most rigorous academics possible that are appropriate for the child,” she said. “It’d be silly to think that we only focus on academics...character education for us is a huge part of what we do as educators—teaching our kids to be kind and to be critical thinkers and problem solvers is part of teaching the whole child.”

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.

Critton said this year EP Rayzor’s rating was a B based entirely on STAAR results.

“It’s been so difficult for our teachers because that’s not where we are as a campus and the rating is solely based on the STAAR test,” she said. “It does not capture all the other things we're doing in our community—because we really are a community-centric school.”

After the rating, elementary school staff met to talk about the fact that while the results showed areas to work on and areas of celebration, the single data point does not define the school.

In addition to being a source of dejection for teachers, Critton said the STAAR test can have a negative impact on how students see themselves.

“We know how far [students have] come emotionally and academically, but because they didn't measure up on this one day, they can feel defined by that information,” she said. “I struggle with the message that sends them because that just isn't how [the world] works. Who they are as a learner and a person is not defined by one assessment.”

Another issue Critton’s students are facing is the ever-evolving format of online testing.

“We were one of the first in our district to start online testing...And I can tell you, even with that and feeling ahead, I can't imagine how the other schools that have not been doing online testing are feeling,” she said.

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.

Critton said it is frustrating for teachers to spend so much time teaching the new online format because they do not have instructional days to waste.

“It's not a good use of time for our teachers,” she said. “Research shows that the majority of the public and teachers do not put a lot of stock in how valid [STAAR testing] is.”

This year, the TEA also removed the time limit for the STAAR test because of the length, which means students could test for an entire eight-hour school day.

Critton said testing for that length of time is not appropriate for students at that age.

“This year, we had to add an additional practice STAAR because we're worried about the stamina for our kids and we don't want them wearing out on the day of the test,” she said. “It's another example of preparing them for test taking and taking [time] away from instruction—more days than we ever had to use before.”

Local reform

In the future, Critton said she hopes for other ways to evaluate a school’s rating such as community surveys.

“I know our community would have wonderful things to say, and I also think our character education program should be taken into account,” she said. “We put a lot of work into teaching our children how to be out in the world and interact with each other, and I think that’s super important.”

Additionally, Critton said she would like to see a more comprehensive picture of student growth. Her teachers do not utilize a one-day snapshot to evaluate students’ academic growth. Instead, best practices at EP Rayzor include ongoing assessments.

EP Rayzor is already implementing low-stakes assessments to track students’ growth over time in the form of exit tickets, pre- and post- assessments and quarterly assessments. Teachers use the information from these assessments to collaborate during their Professional Learning Time to look at the school’s student data as a whole.

“It’s never a ‘one and done,’" Critton said. “Even with [ongoing assessments] we triangulate our data, so we're never using one piece of information to decide if a child is ready to move on or not. It's always multiple pieces of data.”

Critton said she and another principal have been working with Raise Your Hand Texas Regional Advocacy Director Missy Bender to start a legislative impact group educating teachers on the importance of voting and how to get involved.

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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