Texas Ed Officials Hope STAAR Upgrades Will Prevent Test Glitches

Annual standardized testing begins in Texas this week and state education officials feel confident that the millions of dollars spent on system improvements and upgrades will prevent the many problems experienced last year when administering the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness also known as the STAAR.

Glitches included computers that erased more than 14,000 student answers, delivery mix-ups, scoring errors, and late test scores that rendered some results useless, Breitbart Texas reported. Subsequently, Education Commissioner Mike Morath fined its New Jersey-based vendor Education Testing Service (ETS) more than $20 million. From those funds, Morath earmarked $5.7 million as “liquidated damages,”and ordered ETS invest $15 million into creating improvements and safeguards in the state’s online testing, shipping, pre-coding, exam scoring, and reporting to avoid these kinds of problems from happening again, as Breitbart Texas reported.

Over the past year, ETS worked closely with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to improve and upgrade the system. The testing vendor significantly increased its server capabilities to handle large volumes plus redesigned its delivery and tracking systems so that Texas officials could better locate testing materials and sensitive private student data, according to The Dallas Morning News.

In 2015, the state awarded ETS a $280 million contract to administer the STAAR after dropping its long-time vendor Pearson. Last year marked the first time ETS oversaw the testing. The company also manages SAT, GRE, and a host of other standardized tests worldwide.

TEA spokeswoman Lauren Callahan told Breitbart Texas, “We are confident that things are going to go far more smoothly. Of course, it’s a large state. We are probably not going to have 100 percent success, but we are very hopeful the changes that have been made are going to result in a far smoother rollout of our spring testing.”

Callahan added another reason for optimism.“We’ve already had a December session of testing for end-of-course (EOC) re-testers and we were encouraged by how well it went,” she stated.

Breitbart Texas reported high school students must pass three out of five of these EOC STAARs for graduation based on Senate Bill 149, a temporary solution signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott two years ago. It created another pathway to allow on-time high school graduation for those seniors who did not pass all their STAAR tests by establishing review committees where “deserving” high school seniors who passed all their courses could exhibit graduation preparedness. Previously, students had to pass all five tests to graduate.  S.B. 149 will expire this year. In January, two state legislators filed bills to extend the review committees, Breitbart Texas reported.

The STAAR also determines whether or not students in grades five and eight get promoted. Still, parents continue to express dissatisfaction with the role standardized testing plays in public education. Some have boycotted the STAAR by “opting out” their children from taking these annual exams even though they are a legislative requirement for all public and charter school students, according to the Texas Education Code Chapter 26, Section 26.010. It states: “A parent is not entitled to remove the parent’s child from a class or other school activity to avoid a test or to prevent the child from taking a subject for an entire semester.”

In 2015, House Bill 743 shortened STAAR testing time to ensure 85 percent of students in third through fifth grade could finish the test in two hours and 85 percent of students in sixth through eighth grade could complete it in three hours. Last year, four parents from around the state sued Morath, alleging the TEA violated the new testing time rules.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.


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