Testing relief: GISD superintendent says decoupling STAAR test from academic advancement ‘the right thing to do’

Gainesville Independent School District Instructional Technology Coordinator Lindsay Foster trains teachers within the district on how to teach students virtually inside the library at Gainesville High School on Tuesday afternoon, July 28. The school district is offering on-campus and at-home learning options for the upcoming school year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Gainesville ISD spokeswoman Leslie Crutsinger said right now the district is focusing on instruction for all its virtual academy teachers. She said before school starts Aug. 19, all teachers districtwide will have the training in case the district has to close because of the pandemic like it did in spring 2020.

Gainesville Independent Superintendent DesMontes Stewart says waiving the grade promotion requirement for some students taking the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test this school year will give teachers a bit of a breather.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday afternoon, July 27, that the grade promotion requirement for fifth and eighth graders taking the STAAR test has been waived for the 2020-2021 school year. Typically, school districts had to take into account a student’s score on the STAAR test to determine whether the student could be promoted to the next grade level, according to a press release from Abbott’s office.

Students enrolled in those two grade levels were required to retake a STAAR test late in the school year, and sometimes again in the summer, if they did not meet grade level minimums when taken during the spring, the release says.

“I think it’s the right thing to do being that kids have been out of school for five months already,” Stewart said of what he calls the “COVID slide.” COVID-19 is the disease caused by the pandemic coronavirus.

Stewart said teachers will not only have current topics to focus on when school begins Aug.19, but will be working on catching students up on those two-and-a-half months of normal instruction missed because of the statewide shutdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Teachers this year are prepared to assign remedial work, he said. Stewart also added that all students will be taking assessments at the beginning of the year to determine their current education levels.

“It [Abbott’s announcement] definitely will help to relieve the anxiety levels of the teachers and really allow them to focus on helping close those gaps,” he said.

Stewart said there’s an overwhelming consensus with superintendents statewide that STAAR testing should be waived altogether for the 2020-2021 school year.

“Our teachers already have a difficult job as it is, so to charge these men and women with not only educating our kids but having to go back two-and-a-half months, pick up from then, catch kids up and push through the assessments for this year, that’s a tall task,” Stewart said. “Our teachers are up for the task but that’s a tall order.”

Abbott’s announcement stated that with the waiver, there would only be one administration of the reading and mathematics assessments for the upcoming school year. The test will be in May to coincide with the administration of other STAAR assessments for grades 3-8, the release states.

The traditional A-F rating system, which grades schools on student’s test scores, will remain in place with some adjustments because of the coronavirus, according to the governor’s office.

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