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Developed to measure student success in college and in future careers, STAAR raised stakes to a level that alarmed many, including middle-class parents who saw the tests as a threat to their college-bound children. The program initially required all high school students to pass 15 STAAR end-of-course exams to graduate. The requirement, long in the works, resulted from an executive order and initiative by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2004 and 2005 and a law that passed in 2007.
Since 2013, grass roots efforts of parents and teachers resulted in lawmakers reining in requirements that fifth- and eighth-graders and high school students had to pass the STAAR to move on to the next grade or to graduate. Now, students in those grades who fail can appeal to a committee of their teachers, parents and administrators to move on.
State officials also made other concessions with the STAAR, which has seen the most changes compared to past assessments, including shortening the test and changing the testing vendor from Pearson Education for the first time in more than two decades.
Between 1995 and 2015, the state spent an estimated $268 million on testing. According to a 2012 study by the Brookings Institute, per-pupil spending on testing in Texas was $34, falling in the middle compared to other states.
Nationwide, a growing movement is pushing back against the status quo of standardized testing, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which advocates for testing reforms. Middle-class parents and Republicans are joining longtime critics — minority student advocates and Democrats — to urge a more developmentally appropriate test, said Bob Schaeffer with the center.
“The two major critiques are that the instruments themselves are narrow measures of what matters in education,” Schaeffer said. “The second interrelated facet is how test scores are used, and Texas was again in the vanguard of attaching high stakes – significant consequences for students and teachers and schools — to test scores.”