New STAAR labels should help parents, Surratt says

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To say that Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath faced several daunting tasks in his first year on the job is understating the issue, to be sure.

The state’s parents have been vocal about implementing better ways and resources to help their children improve in school, he’s trying to juggle the inequalities in state funding and of course, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests.

Parents – and certainly students – aren’t thinking about testing during summer vacation, but in the past few days Morath’s office began e-mailing to parents the latest STAAR results with a new wrinkle – they have self-explanatory labels for parents to see what their child’s individual performance level means for their education.

Each report carries a “masters,’’ “meets,’’ “approaches’’ and “does not meet’’ grade level.

These were designed to be less confusing than previous categories such as “Level II and “Phase-In Level II.’’

Lindale ISD Superintendent Stan Surratt welcomed these tweaks to the reports and feels parents should benefit from the clearer language, but should understand these reports are detailed.

“It’s a very good report,’’ said Surratt. “There is a lot of good information in them. They are a little long and can be complex the first time you look at them, but if parents take time to study them they should get a good deal of information.’’

The key, Surratt said, is to be consistent with the reports.

“Hopefully, (the TEA) will stay the course so parents can become familiar with them and use them as a tool in the future,’’ he said.

Surratt said the LISD fared well in the grading process, but like other districts across the state, scores may have been affected from the inclusion of test results from students with learning disabilities.

“Overall, we did very well again,’’ he said. “(Our) results were a little different because, like everyone else, the results from those with learning disabilities were included.’’

Morath, who’s been on the job since 2016, has visited school districts across Texas hoping to gain knowledge and insight – and suggestions from parents.

Mostly, parents let him know they needed more effective tools and resources to help their children learn.

The new STAAR reports are a result of listening to the parents and according to him, Texas is the first in the nation to give parents specific resources to help their youngsters improve.

“I think the new commissioner has some good ideas,’’ Surratt said. “And hopefully the longer he’s in office, he can make additional improvements.’’

One thing he’s got going for him, Surratt said, is a genuine concern for all the students in the state.

“His heart is in the right place but he needs some help from the legislature,’’ said the superintendent, pointing to the A-F grades issued for school districts.

“These (grades) come from the test scores and it’s inherently unfair because they don’t present a good picture of the overall district,’’ said Surratt.

The most important voices are the ones closest to any district – those of the parents. Good school districts make sure their parents are involved and have an opportunity to express their desires to the elected trustees and the administrators, he said.

“(Parents) know what kind of district they have and they provide the best accountability,’’ said Surratt.

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