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Delaying Decision On STAAR Test Could Cost Texas Tens Of Millions

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - While school districts are still figuring out how to operate this fall there is a debate brewing about standardized testing in the spring.

"There is widespread opposition to this," said State Sen. Beverly Powell, referring to STAAR testing.

She is the latest in a string of lawmakers calling for the suspension of STAAR testing for the next school year.

"It's going to be an inappropriate measure of where we are," said Powell. "We are starting behind this year - we're going to be playing catch-up all year long."

School leaders say the same thing. Dr. Marcelo Cavazos recently told the Arlington ISD school board while testing data is important, "our priority has more to do with our students getting back to learning and progression. No test should take away from that."

Keller ISD's Superintendent, Dr. Rick Westfall, sent a series of tweets echoing that sentiment.

Dr. Rick Westfall tweet
Dr. Rick Westfall tweet

The Texas State Teachers Association and the Texas PTA have released similar statements, but not everyone agrees.

"We have months to figure that out," said State Rep. Dennis Bonnen.

The House Speaker says districts need to stop worrying about the spring and focus on the next few months.

"I am offended that while we are trying to figure out how to keep teacher safe, how to have kids safe, how to get them back to learning, we are obsessing over a test that won't even be given until April," he said.

Governor Abbott made a similar statement to CBS 11's Jack Fink.

"We will not start cancelling things before the school year even begins, Jack. We need to allow the school year to begin first, see how it progresses and see how the COVID-19 situation progresses," Gov. Abbott said.

The CBS 11 I-Team has learned waiting to make that call could come at a cost.

After Gov. Abbott suspended the STAAR in March, the state still had to pay $55 million of its $75 million contract with the test provider.

That's because the company had already created the forms, printed the booklets and trained the scorers.

The contract shows another $73 million due for the 2021 tests - money the state will start spending as early as next month.

"It makes no sense to me why we should be taking tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and putting them into a standardized tests when the children have not been in school since March," said State Sen. Jose Melendez.

He believes those dollars should go towards the true needs of students and staff. "Why not allocate some of this money towards either distance learning, closing the digital divide or making schools cleaner."

The TEA is already providing masks, hand sanitizers, gloves and other supplies to districts.

For now, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath has publicly announced the tests will happen, though the results will not affect students' ability to advance to the next grade.

Morath declined the CBS 11 I-Team's repeated requests for an interview.

An agency spokesperson tells CBS 11 that the state will save some money by using the 2020 forms for the 2021 tests, but he did not elaborate on the amount of savings.

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