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 Katy ISD, the district’s board of trustees is enlisting voices from the community to help make effective changes to measuring academic success in its schools.

Lance Redmon, Katy ISD trustee and vice president, said the board plays a large role in overseeing the superintendent and financial operations. In addition, board members advocate for schools and work with the community to find better assessment options for how long-term student success is measured.

Redmon said students need to be measured over time rather than a one-day snapshot.

“What happens on one day is not necessarily going to make or break students—it’s the cumulative effect,” he said. “An end-of-year assessment is a lagging indicator, not a leading indicator... an effective assessment tool should allow us to make adjustments.”

Cohen said elementary and middle school campuses in Texas are in acute need of accountability system reform, because 100% of the 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.

Redmon said there are more factors that go into measuring success than academic performance, and that accountability systems should account for social and emotional aspects in the classroom as well as students’ socioeconomic status.

Students in the 21st Century are also facing a new issue: online testing.

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.

Redmon said the online formatting of these exams is an issue and does not strictly measure academic performance.

“As they’re moving online, now we’re testing how good they are at using their computer and whether or not they know how to drag and drop,” he said. “So not only are we teaching reading, writing, science, but we’re really trying to teach computer skills.”

Local reform

Cohen said she is seeing the desire to reform how student success is measured in districts throughout Texas, including Katy ISD. This spring, Redmon is taking a small group to Austin to meet with legislators about the district’s concerns.

In 2022, Katy ISD led listening circles with the community to build out the legislative agenda, which includes topics such as teacher retention and recruitment; hiring teachers without fines from the pension program; and reducing the number of state-required assessments and changing how they are carried out in different populations.

“When you start talking about how those statewide assessments are carried out in the special ed population, many times it may not take their [Individualized Education Program] into effect during that time,” Redmon said. “There are some ways to allow them to engage with the STAAR differently.”

In particular, the group is focusing on reducing the impact of HB 4545 on its students, legislation that passed during the 2021 legislative session.

“The bill has all these implications requiring committees and tutoring for students who don’t do well on standardized tests,” he said. “They're basically unfunded mandates.”

Cohen said many students have horror stories about test day anxiety and high levels of stress surrounding standardized testing.

In Katy ISD, parents have cried out for removing the high-stakes environment surrounding STAAR tests, Redmon said.

“STAAR scores make up entire ratings in elementary and middle schools,” he said. “There needs to be more that goes into that score than just a test score.”

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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