The Texas Education Agency has made no indication that the annual statewide STAAR exams will be canceled this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, instead forging ahead with plans to make the tests available fully online by 2022.

The 87th Texas legislature will evaluate the TEA’s transition plan and feasibility study at their upcoming session, which begins Jan. 12. The plan and study need to be approved before the plan can be implemented.

“A fully electronic administration will level the playing field for students who need accommodations, expedite test results, reduce cost and promote future innovations in assessments,” according to the TEA website.

Through HB 3906, the Texas legislature ordered TEA to begin investigating and planning a transition to online STAAR in February, 2020. All Texas schools were surveyed during a three week period from March to April, 2020, according to the TEA website.

According to TEA’s report, surveys from Texas school districts and other states who transitioned to online state testing were evaluated. In the 2019-2020 school year, of U.S. states, 36 states currently administer state testing online. TEA found that of the 36 states that have transitioned to online testing, several have even more rural students than Texas.

Goals of TEA’s transition plan include helping school districts provide students with technology access, improving network infrastructure and more. If the TEA’s plan is approved, implementation will begin in the 2020-2021 school year and continue through the 2021-2022 school year. Full implementation of the plan and complete transition to online STAAR testing is expected by the 2022-2023 school year.

TEA found that about 60 percent of districts who responded to the survey have a reliable Internet connection for students to use, however about 58 percent of districts also have inadequate technology to prevent network congestion. Causes of network connection were most commonly cited as interruptions to Internet access, at 47 percent, an overload of users, at 34 percent, and slow WiFi at about 32 percent.

STAAR testing for the 2020-2021 school year will be held in April and May for local school districts.

Public school students in third through 12th grade are required to take STAAR tests in core subjects – reading, writing, math, science and social studies. Elementary and junior high students take two to three STAAR tests per school year, while high school students must pass five end-of-course STAAR tests to graduate.

Online STAAR testing has been available to students needing testing accommodations since the 2016-2017 school year. On the flip side, when STAAR testing is made fully online, students will be able to take written exams if an online exam doesn’t meet their needed accommodations.

“Although the goal is stated as 100 percent STAAR online testing, it should be noted that this will include exceptions to electronic administration for students in extenuating circumstances that prevent them from testing online,” according to the TEA feasibility report.

As COVID-19 cases across the country spike, Abbott has yet to cancel STAAR testing for the 2020-2021 school year. In March 2020, schools closed for part of the spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By the end of the month, Gov. Greg Abbott canceled STAAR testing for the 2019-2020 school year.

In October, Louise ISD trustees joined other school districts across the state in asking Abbott to cancel STAAR testing and also to remove student STAAR scores as a factor in annual TEA district ratings this year due to the ongoing pandemic.

TEA ultimately granted part of the LISD school board’s wish, announcing in December that school districts will not be rated based on student STAAR scores this year.

ECISD and LISD educators have been preparing students for STAAR since August. STAAR prep will continue into the upcoming months in both districts.

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