Today, May 6, 2019, the Texas legislators are slated to vote on a version of the school finance legislation, House Bill 3, that includes a proposal to add four more writing tests and tie school funding directly to third-grade STAAR results. The new exams would bring the total number of annual assessments to 21 and would mark the second change to the number of tests since 2012. Currently, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) includes the following assessments:
- Reading and Mathematics, grades 3–8;
- Writing at grades 4 and 7;
- Science at grades 5 and 8;
- Social Studies at grade 8;
- End-of-Course (EOC) assessments for English I, English II, Algebra I, Biology and U.S History; and
- Optional End-of-Course (EOC) assessments for English III and Algebra II.
According to a Texas Monthly article published this weekend, the last-minute tinkering of the recently proposed and significant school finance House Bill 3 to include more STAAR exams and link funding to third-grade STAAR results, by the Senate Education Committee comes at a time when many critics are questioning the accuracy and efficacy of the STAAR exams. Many proponents point to the need to increase the numbers assessments in order to determine student academic progress better. Moreover, the focus on 3rd-grade assessment levels connects to the significant body of research that links 3rd-grade reading levels to future student success outcomes. Finally, proponents want to add more writing exams, in particular, because, under the current system, students only have four writing exams (4th grade, 7th grade, English I, and English II)
On the other hand, opponents argue that the Texas Education Agency should improve the accuracy of the STAAR exams before introducing additional assessments. After all, it is challenging to measure student progress if the instrument is inaccurate. Opponents also question the Senate Education Committee’s tying funding to 3rd-grade STAAR results, which merely exacerbates educators’ growing cynicism about legislators’ support of public education.
Absent in the arguments of both sides of the debate is the consideration of the real cost of adding more high-stakes tests. Regardless of the timing that additional assessments are implemented, measures such as these will not improve student achievement. Not only will district administrators, principals, and teachers focus an inordinate amount of their attention on increasing student scores on the new tests, but issues with the accuracy of STAAR academic program and strategies to improve the quality of classroom instruction still will not be resolved or even addressed. Ironically, adding more STAAR tests, whether now or later, will result in a “miss” with regard to the ideal goal of increasing student learning. Today’s debate will be yet another distraction from the real and pressing need to improve teaching and learning in Texas public schools.