Senate Education Committee
April 14, 2014
Good morning, my name is Erin Lawler. I am a public policy specialist with the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities or TCDD. The Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) is established by federal law in the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act and is governed by a 27 member board, appointed by the Governor, 60 percent of whom are individuals with developmental disabilities or family members of individuals with disabilities. TCDD’s purpose in law is to encourage policy change so that people with disabilities have opportunities to be fully included in their communities and exercise control over their own lives.
TCDD appreciates the efforts of the Legislature and the Texas Education Agency to improve the STAAR-Alternate test. We have two strong recommendations related to the pending changes.
- First, we recommend that TEA develop the redesigned STAAR-Alt in a manner that allows for appropriate testing accommodations for students.
- Second, we recommend that TEA include more stakeholder input in its process moving forward and revise its timeline if necessary to accommodate that input. Input from parents, special education teachers and administrators, and advocacy groups that represent people with disabilities is necessary.
When we picture the population of students who take the STAAR-Alt test, it is helpful to keep in mind that federal law does not allow for any exemptions from this kind of test. This means that the students taking the STAAR-Alt include those with the most significant disabilities that affect learning. Students who take STAAR-Alt include children with IQs of 70 and below, students who are deaf-blind, students who are non-verbal, students who are Autistic, and students who experience some combination of these disabilities. Even though we are talking about 1% of the student population, that population contains remarkable diversity in learning styles.
Nothing about special education is “one-size-fits-all.” A one-size-fits-all standardized test, like the new STAAR-Alt, is unlikely to meet the diverse needs of students with significant disabilities unless a wide range of accommodations is available. The teachers who participated in the cognitive lab conducted by TEA as part of the redesign planning process asserted that accommodations, including the use of objects and sensory involvement, would be necessary to administer the test. Providing a wide range of appropriate accommodations is a fair way to measure both a student’s progress and a teacher’s success in teaching that student. We understand that TEA must follow House Bill 5’s stipulation that “an assessment instrument may not require a teacher to prepare tasks or materials for a student,” but we believe a common-sense reading of this requirement would allow for teachers to use materials and other accommodations already in use in the classroom.
The significance of the pending changes to the STAAR-Alt cannot be overstated and for this reason, more stakeholder input is needed. STAAR-Alt is going from a performance-based test to an item-based test, from a test created and customized by a teacher to meet each student’s learning needs to a standardized test created by an outside company that is identical for each student at a particular grade level. The current STAAR-Alt system allows for a student’s ARD committee to designate the appropriate complexity level for that student. Under the new system, the ARD committee does not play any role. Instead, each student will answer questions from all complexity levels. This means that a student who operates at complexity level one, the lowest level, will face questions from complexity levels one, two, three, and four throughout the test. These are seismic changes and will require explanation to those affected. Concerned parents are already contacting advocacy groups, seeking guidance on how the changes will affect their children. TEA should be working with parents, special education experts, and disability advocates about how best to inform parents and schools about these changes.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments.
Erin E. Lawler
Public Policy Specialist