AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Thursday defended his decision to administer the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness — known commonly as the STAAR test — despite opposition from many teachers and parents who claim the on-campus assessments are unfair and unsafe during the coronavirus pandemic.

Morath said during a live-streamed interview with the Texas Tribune that the STAAR test will provide crucial data as the state combats a learning gap produced by the pandemic. But he added that some students learning remotely will be able to skip the exams.

“If the family is still concerned that they need to remain for remote instruction, then they stay remote instruction that day and their kid won’t take the test and they won’t have access to that information,” Morath said. “There will be a significant reduction in their ability to know where their children are.”

Students will not be punished for skipping the STAAR test this year.

High school seniors, however, must pass the STAAR end-of-course assessments for Algebra I, English I, English II, Biology and U.S. History in order to graduate. That requirement was waived last year.

Rep. Gina Hinojosa, an Austin Democrat and former chair of the Austin ISD School Board, said the test should be scrapped altogether.

“Taking a test which has the sole purpose of comparing and sorting kids in schools in districts is not appropriate right now,” Hinojosa told KXAN.

Morath warned that without targeted intervention, the negative effects of the pandemic could have a generational impact on learning outcomes and the economy.

He said the STAAR test will help the state make those decisions.

“If we don’t know where (students) are, how do we know how effectively to support them?” Morath said.

Cathy Malerba, Round Rock ISD’s executive director of assessment and evaluation, said the STAAR test is a valuable tool that provides a “system check” but is only one of several resources the district uses to assess student performance.

“We have a lot of different data points and, obviously, success in the classroom is first and foremost when teacher teams are trying to decide what to recommend in terms of next year’s schedule,” Malerba said.