Transformation Waco Spring Break Academy

Indian Spring Middle School eighth-grader Ismael Campos works on a math exercise last week with teacher Kevetta Williams as part of a spring break academy preparing for the STAAR test.

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Coronavirus latest: What's happening around Waco

Waco Independent School District students likely will not take state standardized exams this school year, after Gov. Greg Abbott waived the testing requirement for all school districts early Monday in the face of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

But the students in the five Waco ISD schools operated by Transformation Waco, the in-district charter system created in 2018 under Senate Bill 1882, could still take the exams to gauge their academic growth. That decision has not been made yet, Transformation Waco CEO Robin McDurham said.

Waco ISD is one of 569 school districts that had announced closures due to coronavirus concerns as of Sunday afternoon, according to the state. The district is planning next week to pivot to online learning after extending spring break to two weeks. District officials said Monday they will not require students to make up the lost days.

The 15,000 students in the district and Transformation Waco, the in-district charter system that operates five Waco ISD campuses, are among 30 million public school students affected by the coronavirus nationwide, after more than 30 states closed schools.

Abbott also said he would ask the federal government to waive this year’s federal standardized testing requirements, which apply to all states.

The state will not mandate that districts offer the exam, but some superintendents may want the test data to see how their students are doing, according to the TEA. Agency officials are working to support those school districts, if necessary.

Waco ISD officials said Monday they had no plans to administer the state exams to students outside the Transformation Waco schools.

The governor’s announcement comes a day after Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told superintendents and lawmakers on two separate phone calls to prepare for long-term school district closures, potentially through the end of the school year, especially in areas where the new coronavirus has spread.

Lawmakers from both parties, as well as school superintendents, had been calling on the state to cancel the test since it became clear students would miss many days of school, when districts started extending their spring breaks for a week or two.

McDurham said she does not know how the cancellation of state testing, known as STAAR, will affect the five schools the in-district charter system operates. Part of Transformation Waco’s three-year contract with Waco ISD mandates the five schools see growth on the STAAR. All schools would have needed to pass the STAAR and, therefore, state academic accountability ratings, to fulfill the contract with Waco ISD.

The five schools in Transformation Waco are Alta Vista Elementary, Brook Avenue Elementary, J.H. Hines Elementary, G.W. Carver Middle and Indian Spring Middle.

Waco students will not have to make up the days they miss from school due to the coronavirus, officials confirmed Monday. The Waco ISD board of trustees voted in an emergency meeting Monday evening to seek a missed school day waiver from the Texas Education Agency for this week, the first week after spring break. Remote instruction for students will begin March 23 and last at least through March 27, so the district does not need a waiver for those days.

Superintendent Susan Kincannon said the district would distribute instructional materials, such as books and writing materials, for students Monday, March 23, so remote instruction could begin. The district will share where the materials can be picked up later this week.

The school board also voted Monday to authorize Kincannon to continue to pay all Waco ISD employees during the crisis.

Kincannon said she and superintendents across the state are on daily phone calls with the state education commissioner as they monitor the unfolding coronavirus situation. There are still many questions to be answered and decisions to be made, including whether to hold a graduation ceremony this spring.

“At this time, it’s a bit of an unknown for us,” she said.

Aliyya Swaby of the Texas Tribune contributed to this story.

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Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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