Texas Relaxes STAAR Expectations Because Kids Can't Handle the Pressure

Three years ago, the state rolled out the shiny new STAAR exam, the Cadillac of state tests as far as the State Board of Education was concerned. It came after decades of testing overhauls and cumbersome acronyms, from TEAMS to TAAS to TAKS, all based on TEKS curriculum requirements. Fill in the bubbles fully and completely, without any stray marks. No. 2 pencil only.

Tired yet? Try being a third-grader.

According to the original timeline, the TEA and State Board of Education had determined that performance standards for the original STAAR exam would progressively get more stringent beginning in 2016. To the relief of every single teacher and administrator in Texas, the state has decided to delay boosting stricter performance standards until 2021.

It seems the state is taking that exhausted third-grader into account this year. According to the Texas Education Agency, three key changes that are being implemented this year are enough to fill kids' plates without adding stricter performance requirements.

The STAAR Modified exam for special needs students will be eliminated this year, in accordance with federal Department of Education guidelines. It will be replaced with an accommodated STAAR exam for students with disabilities. Statewide math requirements will also be changing this year with altered TEKS curriculum.

Lauren Callahan, a spokesperson for the TEA, says Education Commissioner Michael Williams essentially took pity on the kids and determined that three major changes were enough for one year. Another factor likely played heavy in his decision: Districts were scared out of their minds that not enough kids would meet stricter performance standards.

"Our mass curriculum for grades K through eight is more rigorous, so there are a lot of changes that kids will definitely notice," Callahan says. "So the commissioner felt like this would be a good year to stay where we are and see where we are next summer."

With all but flatlined scores across the state, the agency also anticipated that not enough kids would have been able to meet the performance goals. Although the timeline was necessary for the implementation of the test, Callahan says it's difficult to anticipate exactly what changes will be necessary in advance.

"Those other three things were not anticipated several years ago when STAAR started," she says. "It's three full years of STAAR now. It's hard to know three years later what the landscape was going to look like."

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Emily Mathis