“TX. Ed Comm. Morath Calm in the Midst of COVID Storms”
By Donna Garner

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In 2019, the Texas Legislature passed HB 3906 which has provisions in it that require a redesign of the STAAR tests led by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The new redesigned STAAR tests will go into effect in the Spring of 2023.

On 1.28.22, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath gave a brief-but-engaging explanation to the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) and to the public about the changes required for the redesigned STAAR Spring 2023 tests. 

LINK TO JAN. 28, 2022 – COMMENTS BY TEXAS EDUCATION COMMISSIONER MIKE MORATH:   https://www.adminmonitor.com/tx/tea/general_meeting/20220128/


At marker :49 Commissioner Morath said that the full blueprint of this STAAR 2023 redesign will be released by the TEA to the public at the end of the week. 

First, Commissioner Morath thanked the 15 members of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) for their service and reminded the public that these members serve without any compensation whatsoever.


Comm. Morath began his presentation about the upcoming, redesigned STAAR tests and pointed out that there is no doubt (based upon a preponderance of data) that the present STAAR test questions are valid, reliable, and accurate.  However, one of the tenets of HB 3906 (which the TEA is required to implement) is to move the new STAAR test questions to a 75% cap on multiple-choice questions. Another tenet is to move the new STAAR tests to online testing.

Comm. Morath went through an interesting visual presentation to explain that the new STAAR tests will emphasize cross-content alignment in which the reading passages will contain references to content learned in all core classes (ELAR, Social Studies, Science, and Math). In other words, a Grade 4 student may see content questions on the reading passages in the new RLA (Reading, Language Arts) STAAR tests that will contain content from Grade 3 Social Studies, Science, or Math. 

A renewed instructional emphasis in classrooms will be focused toward helping students to learn more cross-content knowledge and vocabulary.  Comm. Morath said that there should be no such thing as reading without writing but that students (Grades 3 – 12) must be required to write throughout their school day in all of their classes. 


Comm. Morath emphasized the following equation and explained it thoroughly in his visual presentation starting at marker 10:08 – 17:16:


The Commissioner utilized a reading research experiment from Wisconsin in the late 1980’s centered around baseball knowledge to explain the importance of taking yellow (i.e., high reading skills and low knowledge) and blue (i.e., low reading skills and high knowledge) to make green (i.e., high reading skills and high knowledge).  Then he explained how important it is for students to speak, listen, read, and write coherently in cross-curriculum settings at all grade levels – not only in Grades 4 and 7 as is done now when writing is tested on the STAAR. 


The redesigned STAAR will contain content examples that students will read during the test and will write a response to the passages. For instance, a Grade 3 student might read a passage about the French and Indian War and be asked to write a cause-and-effect paragraph that covers the fact-based, academic content found in the passage.

This is far different from a student’s being asked subjectively scored questions about how she/he might have “felt” while taking a hot-air balloon ride.

Instead of numerous multiple-choice questions on the cross-curricular passage, the student on the redesigned STAAR may be asked to read the passage and then to write open-ended answers that have explicit right-or-wrong content in them (based upon what is written in the passage).  


Commissioner Morath clarified the way that the field test questions on the STAAR (and also on the redesigned STAAR) are presently produced. High numbers of Texas educators are involved in field test teams.

Field test questions are those that appear on the STAAR tests but that are not actually graded.

Before a single student ever sees the field test questions, a large group of Texas teachers must have signed off on each of the questions.  These teachers on the field test committee are divided up into groups of 20 to 40 from all over the state of Texas and must be current, practicing teachers in a particular grade level.  For instance, if they are Grade 3 Math teachers, they will see field test questions that may be on the Grade 3 Math STAAR test.

Each team of teachers looks at every single field test question and must sign off that the question is tightly aligned with student expectations, that the question assesses what is supposed to be assessed, that the question is grade-level appropriate, that it lacks bias, that students all over Texas would be familiar with the answers, and that students in that teacher’s subject/grade level by the end of the year could answer the question. 


To explain the many accommodations that can and will be made available on the new, redesigned, online STAAR tests for students who qualify for such accommodations, Comm. Morath showed a two-minute video that illustrated the amazing types of technology tools that will be provided – marker 34:15.

The Commissioner emphasized that the TEA will periodically be providing Texas public schools with free, early-assessments. These will use the same platform as that used by the redesigned, online STAAR tests so that students will have genuine, realistic, practice sessions (e.g. how to sign-in, how to use accommodation tools, etc.) before they take the actual redesigned tests in the Spring of 2023.  


One idea that the Commissioner thinks may have merit is for the SBOE (in conjunction with the TEA and teachers throughout the state) to create an addendum to the ELAR TEKS that would contain a book list and/or a vocabulary guide to help students to develop deeper, cross-curricular knowledge. Florida has such an addendum in its new ELAR standards. 


As a veteran ELAR, Texas teacher (having taught for 33+ years – now retired), I am very appreciative of Texas Comm. of Education Mike Morath. He has helped to keep the “ship” from sinking even during the COVID storms. We all know the terribly difficult experiences that students, their families, and educators have had to endure over these last COVID years; but Comm. Morath, the TEA, and the SBOE have done their very best to follow the laws, the research, and the goals to help our Texas public school students to gain academic achievement even in the midst of COVID chaos.