The largest school district in the Lone Star State was shaken up when thousands of annual State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) end-of-course completed exam answer sheets vanished. It was quite the find when all but 68 of them resurfaced this week.
The Houston Independent School District (ISD) had lost the completed answer sheets from grades 5 and 8 reading tests across 57 different schools, due to what was being described as a shipping error. The district first learned that the completed test packets of 2,400 students were missing on May 27. They would soon learn that one of the boxes shipped to Pearson, the testing company, had been damaged.
Houston ISD’s chief academic officer, Andrew Houlihan, told the school board last week that district officials had not changed anything about their packing procedure and thus, he could only contend that this was “quite an unprecedented and bizarre situation,” according to the Houston Chronicle.
Earlier this week, school district spokeswoman Holly Huffman told KHOU-11 News that a UPS box broke while being shipped for grading in Austin. Not only was the box damaged, some of the contents, including the completed exams, were lost.
Initially, Houston ISD reviewed the records of the students involved, and determined that 1,400 would move onto the next grade, as they had met all the other required promotion standards. Those remaining 1,000 students, whose tests were lost, did not meet the standards and were going to have to take extra classes and retest on June 23, also according to KHOU-11.
Then, on Wednesday, June 10, state and district officials confirmed that the bulk of the tests materialized. They turned up at a UPS outlet where the box had broken on its way to Pearson, said Texas Education Agency (TEA) spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe.
“Apparently, the box burst open in a UPS shipping facility, not on the truck, like we all initially thought,” she told the Houston Chronicle.
Another TEA spokesman Gene Acuna elaborated, “My understanding is that UPS somehow attempted to gather up what they could and re-tape the box and send it in.”
Although 2,370 of the completed STAAR exams are now accounted for and can be sent to Austin for scoring, 68 tests are still missing. The remaining absentee answer sheets are from six district elementary schools, according to the TEA. They came from a May retest taken by fifth- and eighth-graders who failed or were absent for the first administration of the STAAR reading exam.
“We are thankful so many answer sheets were found, as they provide valuable data on student academic achievement,” the district also said in its statement.
Houston Independent School District administrators will now be able to review the majority of the STAAR test results to help determine which affected students should be promoted to the next grade level. Under Texas law, fifth- and eighth-graders must pass the state exams to be promoted, or receive a waiver from a school committee.
On May 11, Governor Abbott signed Senate Bill 149 into law. It amended promotion requirements by allowing students to move onto the next grade even when they failed up to two of the STAAR tests, as long as they met certain criteria. That law went into effect immediately.
Statewide, students enrolled in Texas public schools are required to take the STAAR. In 2013, House Bill 5 changed the graduation requirements, reducing the number of these end-of-course exams from 15 to 5.
STAAR test scores are used, in part, by the TEA to determine school accountability ratings. Campuses with missing results will not be penalized in the rating system, unless the failure rate is particularly high, the Chronicle pointed out.
The resistance towards high-stakes standardized test taking has been growing nationally in what is called the opt out of the testing movement. In April, Breitbart Texas reported that a Houston ISD administrator threatened parents that their children would face summer school if they opted out of the very state mandated year-end STAAR exams, that, ironically, were temporarily lost.
Houston ISD is the 7th largest school district in the nation.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.