NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – As North Texas parents tackle this unique school year of virtual and hybrid learning, local education experts say there are some key questions they need to be asking their children’s teachers.

Anne Wicks, the Director of the Education Reform Initiative at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, says this year it is more important than ever that parents be engaged with their children’s education, especially when learning is virtual.

“In the same way that a principal or other administrator would be walking the halls popping into classrooms, that same kind of thing should be happening virtually this year and in a lot of places it is,” Wicks says. “It is just really important that if you see something that isn’t right– say something.”

She says there are three key questions parents should be asking this school year:

First, is the district/teacher measuring where students currently are academically?  This will give them a baseline for the year of where the students are currently and who may already be behind.

Second, how is the district/teacher measuring engagement? This includes both measuring the child’s engagement with the virtual classroom and the teacher’s virtual engagement with the students.

Finally, what testing will be done by the district/teacher to ensure students stay on track with key learning milestones?

“This also gives you a chance to connect with your child, your children who are experiencing a really different school year,” Wicks says.

“I encourage you to stay as close as you can to what is happening in school, because it gives you a chance to talk with your child about it in a different way.”

If you notice your child is falling behind or notice engagement by your child or their teacher is low, Wicks says you should immediately reach out to the administrators of your child’s school.

Among the education community, experts say testing is a key component to not only make sure no student falls behind, but to also ensure each child receives an equitable education.

Wicks says in a year where so much learning is being done virtually, testing is more important than ever before and can give educators key information.

“Were they able to learn what we expect them to in a normal school year? What worked? What didn’t work?” Wicks explains.

“We always say (testing is needed) so that the adults in the system — that’s the teachers, educators, tax payers– know what we really need to do to make sure all kids around Texas stay on track and have opportunities going forward.”

Standardized tests, like the Texas STARR test, were created to hold school districts accountable to ensure every child is meeting the academic milestones they need to be.

Wicks say in the same way people wouldn’t get mad when a thermometer tells them they have a fever, we shouldn’t get mad at testing just because it is giving us a read on where our schools currently stand academically.

She says the information testing gives schools and the state only helps them to improve and get better moving forward; however, she argues one element of standardized tests should not be included this year.

Any accountability decisions, like grade promotions, that are often tied to those tests, she says should not be included during such an unusual year for education.

“We don’t think there should be punitive consequences for the kids through this process,” Wicks explains.

“Really, because so much is unknown, we just need to gather as much information and data– including testing data – to help take action steps that help all kids.”

Mike Morath, the Commissioner of Education for the State of Texas, recently announced Texas public Schools will administer the STARR test in the spring.

However, decisions on an accountability system attached to the STARR test this school year, like grade promotions, have not been finalized.

If people want to voice their opinions on the issue, Wicks encourages them to reach out first to your school and district administrators. Then, reach out to the Texas Education Agency on their website.

Madison Sawyer