Unvetted changes to STAAR test in Senate plan have yet to be debated fully

The Senate’s school finance plan passed this week also includes a variety of changes to the STAAR tests (not in the House plan), including adding back writing tests, but also attempting to shorten testing time. With the addition of pay for test scores and outcomes-based funding to the plan, folks rightfully concerned with the negative impacts of testing are saying the bill is pushing us in the wrong direction — headed full-speed toward the insanity of relying more and more on a faulty test for the bulk of our education initiatives. Texas Monthly’s Mimi Schwarz, who first reported about the question over STAAR validity for reading, wrote in her May 4 piece:

In short, those concerned about the STAAR test’s accuracy and efficacy have, once again, been dissed. Educators, teachers, and parents have complained to the Legislature and the TEA that the high-stakes testing has damaged students in myriad ways while failing to measure real academic progress, and yet few substantive changes have been made.

One considerable problem with the proposed STAAR changes is that they were never fully discussed in legislative hearings. They seemed to come from nowhere. But striking back against the anti-STAAR hysteria is Kimberly Reeves of the Quorum Report (a Capitol insiders news site) who defended the changes in her “Fact check on STAAR in HB 3.”

It’s fair criticism to say the inclusion of this testing change should have been more fully vetted….The STAAR reform piece of House Bill 3 has risen to the top among the concerns about the school finance bill, generating its own #NoSTAARonHB3 hashtag on social media over the weekend.
….As the bill language shows, the state is not adding additional tests in grades 3–8. It would be fair to say that writing standards would be incorporated into language arts-reading tests in grades 3–8, and the much-maligned writing tests at Grades 4 and 7 would be discarded.
According to language, this incorporation will be done without adding time or questions to the test. For instance, if a standard test is 40 questions, then the split might now be 45 questions in English-language arts and 5 samples on writing and grammar. The writing, in short, is being incorporated into the reading portion of the test.
….The bill does allow school districts to break the multi-hour test into multiple parts….A school district that wanted to minimize disruption on campus could break a 180-minute test into three 60-minute tests. This could be completed across multiple days. Those tests could occur over a multi-week window.
….And, under the bill, the state would begin the five-year transition to online assessments….
Among the other claims made….There won’t be a new kindergarten assessment. TEA has a long history with early education assessments and an early childhood data system. The assessment is required under the school finance bill, which will fund the potential expansion to full-day kindergarten.

Reeves, who has long championed the benefits of assessments, may not have thought out all the impacts of these changes, nor does she seem to have a problem with the pay-for-test-scores/outcomes-based funding. (One teacher commenting on STAAR changes noted that breaking up one test into three could cause three different days of disruption instead of one.) It’s clear that the jury is still out on the changes to the actual test, but the jury is currently uninformed by the rushed process.