It was a busy day for Gov. Greg Abbott, as he announced extra early voting days for this fall’s general election and declared that state requirements for grade promotion for fifth and eighth graders would be lessened this school year thanks to COVID-19.
Monday afternoon, Abbott issued a proclamation extending the beginning of early voting for the November 3 election by six days. Early voting will now begin on October 13 instead of on October 19 and will end on October 30 as previously scheduled.
The move came several days after Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins wrote Abbott a letter requesting that the start of early voting be extended to at least October 13. For this summer’s statewide runoff election, Abbott added a week of early voting days, so this is the second time during the pandemic the governor has made such an extension.
Also included in Abbott’s early voting proclamation are new rules for in-person delivery of mail-in ballots. Voters with a mail-in ballot are usually only able to hand-deliver those ballots to their local early voting clerk’s office while the polls are open on Election Day itself, but Texas voters can now hand them in throughout the early voting period. Abbott and state Republicans have continued to resist pleas from Democrats to expand access to mail-in voting due to the pandemic.
Just over an hour later, Abbott announced that the grade promotion requirement tied to the standardized State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test for fifth and eighth graders has been waived for the 2020-21 school year.
STAAR test results usually determine whether fifth and eighth graders in Texas can advance to the next grade. Fifth and eighth graders who don’t test at grade level in reading or math are usually required to retake the STAAR test late in the school year or during the summer. This year, the statewide assessments for those grades will only be offered once in May.
Monday’s waiver states that thanks to “past and anticipated impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” school districts will be able to use their own discretion to determine whether their fifth and eighth graders should advance at the end of the school year, and spells out that school districts “are still responsible for providing accelerated instruction and supports” for students who fail their STAAR tests.
In a press release, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath shared his view that “there is no benefit to our children by requiring them to repeat a year based on a single test score” given the unique academic challenges Texas students are facing due to the ongoing pandemic.
“By waiving these promotion requirements, we are providing greater flexibility for students and teachers, while at the same time ensuring that Texas students continue to receive a great education — which we will continue to measure with high quality assessments,” Abbott said in a statement.