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The Texas Education Agency announced Thursday, Dec. 10, that the A-F ratings “would be paused” for the 2020-21 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But students will still be required to take the State Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test, which is designed to gauge what they have learned and the ability to use that knowledge.

Burnet Consolidated Independent School District officials welcomed the news.

“On behalf of the Burnet CISD, I applaud (Texas) Education Commissioner (Mike) Morath and the Texas Education Agency for listening to the concerns of educators across Texas,” said Dr. Rachel Jones, BCISD assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. “The suspension of A-F ratings promotes an authentic focus on serving students without distraction of a mismatched accountability system.”

The TEA assesses Texas school districts and campuses on an A to F scale based on a number of criteria, including student STAAR and end-of-course test results. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath explained that while the assessments won’t be used for campus and district ratings, the information from those exams still provides valuable data for educators and students.

Marble Falls ISD Superintendent Dr. Chris Allen welcomed the decision as well, but emphasized MFISD’s focus has been and remains the students and their growth, not some state-imposed rating.

“It does not take pressure off the schools because we do not work for ratings, we work for parents and students,” he stated. “I think it does take some pressure off of students, but that will depend on additional details to the accountability ‘pause.’”

The TEA announcement didn’t state how or if the pause will affect the STAAR Student Success Initiative. Under state law, students in fifth grade are required to pass the mathematics and reading tests to be promoted to the sixth grade. Eighth-graders must also pass the math and reading portions of STAAR to advance to ninth grade.

“I’m happy with this decision because it provides some data while recognizing the impact of the pandemic on school operations,” Allen added. “We expect more clarity after the first of the year.”

During the 2019-20 academic year, the state suspended the STAAR due to the pandemic but said the test would happen this year. School officials from across the state have called on Gov. Greg Abbott and the TEA to again suspend the STAAR due to ongoing issues related to COVID-19.

And this recent announcement hasn’t changed that.

“We still advocate for the cancellation of the 2021 STAAR tests so that the dollars for test administration could be repurposed,” Jones said. “Burnet CISD already uses research-based means of measuring student achievement so that we can monitor student progress.

“Thursday’s action by TEA is an important step in responding to the educational disruptions of the past year,” she added. “We are also thankful that the announcement was made prior to the end of the semester so that educators have one less concern as they enjoy some well-deserved, off contract relaxation.”

daniel@thepicayune.com