Although TCTA and others continue to call for the commissioner to seek a waiver to suspend STAAR testing this year, given the Biden administration’s recent announcement that states will be expected to continue state assessments this year, it appears that the only viable avenue to do so has been closed. Federal law requires all students to be tested annually in grades 3-8 and in high school.
However, Commissioner Morath indicated in a recent interview with the Texas Tribune, that parents of remote learners who don’t believe in-person testing is safe can keep their children home. “It’s not opting out of the STAAR test. It’s opting for remote education,” Morath said.
Additionally, TEA guidance gives further clues about what kind of repercussions schools and students would face should students opt out of taking STAAR. TEA’s Spring 2021 Assessment Guidance (1/20/21), includes FAQs including one asking “What do I do if a student who is receiving remote instruction does not participate in the spring 2021 administrations?” TEA’s response is that “ For any eligible student receiving remote instruction who does not go to the campus or designated testing site to take a STAAR, STAAR Alternate 2, or TELPAS online assessment in spring 2021, the district should indicate “O” for other (emphasis added) in the SCORE CODE field and “0” under column D in the AGENCY USE field.”
Finally, Texas has requested a waiver from federal requirements that at least 95% of the states’ students participate in the state assessment.
Texas has already committed to allowing elementary and middle school students who fail the exams this spring to move up to the next grade, with district permission.
However, despite calls to also extend the waiver to exams required for high school graduation, state leadership thus far has not indicated a willingness to do so, because, according to the commissioner, he doesn’t have waiver authority, and that the opportunity to address it should be by the legislature, since it is in session.
As for other repercussions if students other then remote learners opt out of taking STAAR, we are unsure whether in that scenario, Average Daily Attendance funding for districts would be in jeopardy, or whether such a move would violate Texas Education Code provisions prohibiting parents from removing their child from a class to avoid a test.