The academic world is upside down. Districts are grappling with how to deal with the looming school year as they aim to balance health and safety and quality education.

Amid those struggles comes another test, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, which is used to evaluate both student achievement and institutional quality. Testing was postponed for the 2019-20 school year in March due to the coronavirus pandemic that pushed schools into remote instruction. Although circumstances won’t fully be back to normal as we approach the fall, the Texas Education Agency has elected to move forward with the exam for the upcoming school year.

On one hand, this is a good move because current circumstances mean that it’s more necessary than ever to evaluate student performance. Testing is an important measure of student growth and a key way to hold school administrators, principals and teachers accountable. On the other hand, STAAR scores also impact schools’ ratings. Districts use a letter grade system to evaluate school success that takes input from several factors, of which STAAR is a big one. TEA officials have said the agency will make adjustments to the accountability system this year but do not yet know what changes specifically will be necessary. We need to make sure that removing or at least lessening the impact of state testing is one of them.

There shouldn’t be high-stakes repercussions when so much of this school year is still up in the air. As noted in an April study from Northwest Evaluation Association Research, students are already expected to return to school in the fall with less than half the knowledge they normally would have accumulated in math alone because of interruptions to the last academic year. Schools should not be punished for a decrease in performance when it has come from a matter outside of their control. Teachers, parents and students will already have to struggle to adapt to the online and in-person learning plans that lie ahead.

Testing will inevitably demonstrate starker disparities among students and families. There will be an extended testing window and period for online testing, but the TEA has to ensure that schools are equipped to manage uneven internet access. It has made distinct efforts through Operation Connectivity, which has provided many students with internet but, given the online setup, disparities also stem from home situations, which are much more difficult to address.

Despite all this, we need to know where students stand to improve the learning environment as we push forward with educating those students.

The TEA correctly pointed out that less information about academic performance during a pandemic is harmful because it hinders the development of academic interventions and curriculum. But we also know that the results will not be comparable to past years. The TEA is currently gathering feedback and running analyses to develop a proper manner of highlighting academic growth. Dallas ISD has said it will also use local testing to determine specific individual needs.

Individuals such as state Reps. Gina Hinojosa and Tan Parker, Democrat and Republican respectively, as well as groups such as Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment have called for ensuring schools focus on teaching instead of test preparation. Removing the accountability impact will allow schools to do just that while also ensuring testing continues to serve as a benchmark.

At the end of the day, academic growth should always come first.

This story was originally published by The Dallas Morning News.