Absolutely everything under the sun that could go wrong with this year’s State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) did. Failures ranged from online testing glitches and vanishing answers, to missing test score results. It added to the growing frustration many feel about standardized testing in Texas public education.
Education Commissioner Mike Morath responded to the problems plaguing this year’s exams by scrapping the reading and math testing requirements for fifth and eighth grade students — some who might have otherwise gone to summer school or had to retest later in June because they failed the 2015-16 STAAR during the school year.
“I apologize for the continuing problems our students and staff are being forced to deal with because of ongoing reporting issues with our testing vendor,” Morath said in a statement on June 10.
He explained in greater detail Monday his decision was largely based on the fact that too many STAAR scores from a May retest had yet to return from the state’s new vendor Educational Testing Service (ETS).
“This has caused many districts and parents a large amount of confusion, as the districts don’t precisely know which students would be statutorily required to enroll in these summer learning programs and parents haven’t had results for their kids,” he wrote. The commissioner added that, as the Texas Education Agency (TEA) closely monitored the situation, it became apparent the results were not in by Thursday, June 9.
“…therefore we had to take action to provide clarity to districts and parents for the affected students. Given the delays from ETS, we issued guidance encouraging districts to make accelerated instruction decisions entirely on their own, rather than wait and attempt to guess at STAAR results that hadn’t yet been received. Effectively, this meant exempting districts and their students from using STAAR results for this process,” Morath wrote.
The STAAR itself has come under fire since it was implemented four years ago to replace the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) as the end-of-year yardstick of learning. Results have remained flat. More Texas public schools were identified as low performing schools because of poor test scores or unacceptable ratings on the 2016-17 Public Education Grant (PEG) list. This year, 1,532 campuses landed on that list, up from 1,199 failing in 2015-16. The PEG list includes more than 1,200 school districts and charters, translating into over 8,500 campuses.
Parents continue to express dissatisfaction with the pivotal role standardized testing plays in public education, some boycotting the test by “opting out” their children from taking the state mandated annual STAAR. In May, four parents from around the state, sued Morath, alleging the TEA did not follow a law (HB 743) that shortens STAAR testing time for grades 3 through 8 to ensure 85% of students in grades 3–5 can complete exams in two hours and 85% of students in grades 6-8 can do so in three hours. They have raised more than $22,000 of their $25,000 goal to cover attorney fees on their GoFundMe page to Stop the 2016 STAAR Results.
Teachers, too, feel the pinch of the new accountability system, the Texas Teachers Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS). It was part of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver requirement from the U.S. Department of Education. T-TESS requires school districts base 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on student growth measures such as standardized test scores, something which the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) believes violates state law. TSTA, the state’s affiliate to the nation’s largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association (NEA), seeks to stop T-TESS. They filed a lawsuit against Morath, who approved T-TESS to become the state-recommended teacher appraisal system on July 1. The metric was actually unveiled in 2014 and piloted under former education commissioner Michael Williams.
Texas dumped its longstanding standardized testing vendor Pearson for ETS. The ride has been bumpy, beginning with a sizeable computer glitch in March that erased more than 14,220 STAAR test answers in school districts undergoing testing around the state to as recently as last Thursday when the Eanes Independent School District claimed ETS “misplaced” six grade levels of completed STAAR tests.
Said Morath: “Educational Testing Service is not new to administering assessments on a large-scale basis, so I cannot accept the transition to a new testing vendor as an excuse for what occurred.”
For 15 years, the New Jersey-based company administered California’s annual assessment, the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program. In 2013, the Golden State replaced the STAR with the Common Core-affiliated Smarter Balanced test as part of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) system.
STAAR tests matter to students because if they do not pass the reading and math assessments after three attempts, they are retained unless a Grade Placement Committee comprised of a principal, teacher, and the student’s parents all agree to promote the child to the next grade level. High school seniors must pass three out of the five administered end-of-year STAAR exams to graduate.
From October 2015 to March 2016, a 15-member commission headed up by State Board of Education (SBOE) chair Donna Bahorich, traveled the state and met with more than 500 citizens over nine “community conversations.” They sought input and feedback on the STAAR and other measures to which students and public school districts are held accountable. The commission, created under a law passed in May, was tasked with making recommendations based on their findings to state lawmakers by September 1. That could even include proposing the state replace the STAAR with a new test.
“Our constituents often talk to board members about testing and school ratings issues,” said Bahorich in a statement Tuesday, June 14. “I felt it was also important for board members to have in-depth discussions to learn what educators, parents, business people and others want from these two high profile programs. I believe our findings will be useful in shaping the next generation systems.”
Bahorich seeks even more public input. An online survey is open to all Texans through June 30.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.