TEA Defends Lawsuit From Texas Parents

Last month, parents from around the state sued the Texas Education Agency over the controversial, high-stakes standardized test called STAAR, asking a court to throw out test scores for grades three through eight because they believe TEA broke its own rules.

The state education authority filed its response to the lawsuit yesterday — and even though the Texas Attorney General's Office kept the filing short and sweet, parents found the agency's defenses to be “insulting.”

Parents claim that the TEA issued more than two million illegal tests to kids because the exams were too long for students that young. Last session, the Texas Legislature passed a new law requiring the tests to last no longer than two to three hours, depending on grade level. But according to the lawsuit, tests lasted up to four hours for kids in third grade, and fourth graders were subjected to two-day writing assignments.

As Ben Becker, a Houston parent who is a plaintiff in the suit, told us last month, "We really do think these STAAR assessments would be a little bit more humane if they were age-appropriate… But more importantly, if we can't trust that our state officials are going to respect the law when we get it changed, that's a huge systemic issue.”

The agency's defense in the suit is “general denial” of each claim — which is common in civil suits. The TEA also asserts the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case. Attorneys with the AG's office argue the suit should be dismissed because parents failed to “exhaust all administrative remedies” before suing. Parents have taken that to mean that the TEA wanted them to complain to state education officials first — despite the fact that parents have been hollering about many problems with the STAAR exam for months, even taking their kids out of school on test days in protest.

“They have already treated our children and our teachers with great disrespect,” said another plaintiff who is also a teacher, Jennifer Rumsey. “The thought that I should continue to trust them to resolve my issues is insulting.”

TEA declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

The too-long tests and broken laws, as parents assert, are just one problem that STAAR opponents have pointed to this year.

Because STAAR test results can determine which fifth and eighth graders are promoted to the next level, teachers and parents alike consider the exams to be highly stressful for everyone in a way that helps no one. If kids fail to perform well, the test results are used against teachers and schools too, tainting their reputations for reasons STAAR opponents call unfair. This year, the exams were even more high-stress after more than 14,000 students' test answers were erased by a computer glitch. Other school districts got frustrated when results were, in some cases, scored inaccurately or shipped to the wrong locations.

All of these concerns left parents, teachers and administrators doubting the reliability of STAAR.

Becker, the Houston parent, told us last month the reason they chose to sue the TEA over the test lengths, though, was because they had the strongest case.

Houston ISD stands to benefit from parents' winning the case. Almost half of fifth and eighth graders did not pass their math and reading tests, according to data HISD released April 29.

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