Valley education officials push to end STAAR testing

Two Rio Grande Valley politicians have joined officials and educators across the state in calling for a cancellation of STAAR assessments for the 2020-21 school year.

State Board of Education Member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, and state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, sent letters to Gov. Greg Abbott this week requesting the testing be nixed.

Cortez’s letter, released Nov. 11, also requested the governor cancel the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) and Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) assessments.

“While our outstanding educators focus on delivering innovative educational content and working toward a safe and healthy return to classrooms once conditions improve, we must also reduce the burdens and stresses we place upon both students and educators,” it read. “The most immediate way we can do this is by eliminating high-stakes testing.”

Calling the decision to cancel STAAR testing in the spring the right move, Cortez cited the toll the pandemic has taken on the Valley and accurate assessments likely wouldn’t be possible.

“We know that any test results obtained under current conditions will be of questionable validity,” he wrote. “Decisions such as student promotion and graduation, school accountability ratings, and educator evaluations should not be based on questionable test data.”

Canales echoed that sentiment in his letter, sent Nov. 13.

“As you know, the potential consequences attached to the STAAR outcomes are serious,” he wrote. “The school accountability system includes interventions and sanctions on school districts based on data that this year, without a shred of doubt, will be questionable and unreliable.”

Canales described virtual learning being difficult for many and impossible for others, a burden he thinks adds more reasons to cancel the tests.

“This pandemic has not been equitable; it has disproportionately impacted some communities more than others,” he wrote. “While students, teachers, and administrators continue to grapple with the many challenges that they are faced with this year, they have the added and unnecessary stress of administering the STAAR assessments.”

Canales also appealed to Abbott to cancel the testing based on economic grounds.

According to him, the state spends an average of $90 a year administering the STAAR assessment, funds Canales argues could be put to better use this year.

“In a year where projected state revenue has already dropped several billions of dollars, we must search for savings wherever we can. Moreover, this $90 million could be more appropriately directed toward state connectivity issues, intervention, and other academic tools for students and teachers,” he wrote. “The Rio Grande Valley is facing some of the most difficult connectivity issues in the state, made more difficult by the terrible toll this virus has taken on our region.”