Limited by a new state law to no more than two benchmark tests per tested subject area each year, some Texas school districts have found innovative ways to meet the letter of the law while skirting its actual intent. The provision, passed earlier this year by legislators concerned about excessive testing that interferes with classroom instruction, was part of the accountability system overhaul in HB 5.

TCTA attorneys have received numerous calls and emails from members questioning how this new law should be implemented. The statute (see below) defines a benchmark test as “a district-required assessment instrument designed to prepare students for a corresponding state-administered assessment instrument,” and prohibits a district from administering more than two such tests. (State law also places limits on the total number of instructional days that locally required tests can be administered. See "Limits on Testing" in this STAAR overview.)

An exception is made for college preparation assessments such as the PSAT/SAT, ACT-Plan/ACT, AP and IB tests, and “an independent classroom examination designed or adopted and administered by a classroom teacher.” Another exception provides that parents of a special needs student can request additional benchmark tests.

Some districts have simply renamed the benchmark tests (e.g., “cumulative formative assessments”) and continued to schedule more than two during the school year. Some districts are adding additional benchmark questions to other tests. At least one district tests students with a “Curriculum Based Assessment” (CBA) up to three times before giving a benchmark assessment. This district responded to a TCTA inquiry on the matter by asserting that the CBA covers only the TEKS addressed in class up to the point of the test, not all state standards assessed by STAAR, and is therefore distinguishable from a benchmark exam.

If you have questions about your district’s compliance with the benchmarking law, please call the TCTA Legal Department at 888-879-8282. Depending on the situation, legal deadlines might limit the ability to file a grievance, but we can help answer your questions and use information you provide to help formulate potential legislative changes for the next session.

Section 39.0263, Education Code

Administration of District-Required Benchmark Assessment Instruments to Prepare Students for State-Administered Assessment Instruments

(a) In this section, "benchmark assessment instrument" means a district-required assessment instrument designed to prepare students for a corresponding state-administered assessment instrument.

(b) Except as provided by Subsection (c), a school district may not administer to any student more than two benchmark assessment instruments to prepare the student for a corresponding state-administered assessment instrument.

(c) The prohibition prescribed by this section does not apply to the administration of a college preparation assessment instrument, including the PSAT, the ACT-Plan, the SAT, or the ACT, an advanced placement test, an international baccalaureate examination, or an independent classroom examination designed or adopted and administered by a classroom teacher.

(d) A parent of or person standing in parental relation to a student who has special needs, as determined in accordance with commissioner rule, may request administration to the student of additional benchmark assessment instruments.