Imagine getting a report card with only one grade that covered all the student’s learning for the entire school year. That is how many parents, educators, and activists view the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) rating system for Texas public schools.

At the elementary and middle school level, grading is based on one factor: the STAAR test.

Raise Your Hand Texas, an advocacy group founded in 2006, wants to change the way Texas schools are rated and held accountable. From October 2021 to May 2022, the organization asked parents, teachers, administrators, students, and community members for input on how schools should be held accountable. Between community conversations and online outreach, both commencing with surveys, the group listened to input from 15,600 Texans.

Their research showed that 83% of Texans believed the STAAR test should not be the only thing in which schools are graded. The accountability system should reflect that schools do more than teach academics. Of the more than 6,800 teachers who responded to the survey, 81% felt that pressure on the students to do well on standardized testing hindered their ability to teach.

“We are able to make a difference in students’ lives in ways other than academics,” one teacher stated in the survey.

Raise Your Hand Texas has used this information to put together a campaign to change the Texas legislation regarding school accountability. Using the hashtag #MeasureWhatMatters, press conferences were held to further educate the public and school districts of the movement, including one in Harlingen held Feb. 10, 2023.

The #MeasureWhatMatters Conferences uses the acronym KIDS (Knowledge for parents and community members, Indicators beyond the test, De-emphasis STAAR, Seek feedback) to explain the policy recommendations being made to the Texas Legislature by Raise Your Hand Texas.

Knowledge for parents and community members. Receiving a report card with only one grade for all the work a school does during the year does not help parents or educators know their strengths and areas of improvement.

Indicators beyond the test. Student safety, school climate, teacher quality, and enrichment programs are a few of the indicators Raise Your Hand Texas is recommending.

De-emphasis STAAR. The recommendation to the legislature includes limiting the STAAR test to no more than 50% of the State’s accountability score. They also want to eliminate the STAAR tests not required by federal law.

Seek feedback. Districts should seek feedback from their community regarding where the school is succeeding and where they need improvement. Recommendations include asking the TEA to produce local, community-based, and benefits-based accountability systems.

“Our students are more than one test on one day. A single test should not be the sole indicator of school and student performance,” Raise Your Hand Texas senior director of advocacy, Dr. Libby Cohen said.

The movement away from standardized tests is not unique to Texas. Nebraska has replaced the standard testing system with one that compares the child to their own previous tests rather than the student’s grade group. Florida students will take progress monitoring tests this year instead of traditional standardized assessments. Raise Your Hand Texas is not asking to eliminate the STAAR test but rather to use it as a tool rather than the only measure for school accountability.

“We need to recognize once and for all that standardized tests work best when they serve as a flashlight on what works and what needs our attention,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said, “Not as hammers to drive the outcomes we want in education from the top down, often pointing fingers to those with greater needs and less resources.”

Joanney Uthe