Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced Tuesday that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) fined its beleaguered standardized testing vendor Education Testing Services (ETS) $20.7 million.
This comes in response to systematic failures that wreaked havoc last year on administering the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR).
In a statement, Morath said: “I believe this combination of liquidated damages with an additional financial commitment from ETS reflects the correct balance of accountability for the recent past and safeguards for the future.”
Of the $20.7 million, Morath designated $5.7 million as “liquidated damages” from the 2015-2016 vendor-associated STAAR flap in which everything that could go wrong, did — from online testing glitches and vanishing answers to test booklets sent to the wrong schools, questions with no right answers, completed tests lost in the mail and even, some test results were never received.
Then, Morath ordered the New Jersey-based ETS to invest $15 million of its funds into improvements and safeguards in the state’s online testing, shipping, pre-coding, exam scoring and reporting to prevent the kind of problems that plagued last year’s STAAR.
In 2015, Texas dumped its longstanding vendor, the London-based Pearson, awarding ETS a $280 million contract to administer the STAAR. The ride has been bumpy, beginning with a sizeable computer glitch in March that erased more than 14,220 STAAR exam answers in school districts undergoing testing.
Because of the persistent problems plaguing the STAAR, Morath scrapped math and reading test results for students in fifth and eighth grade, allowing youngsters to move to the next grade level. Normally, Texas students must pass their STAAR exams to advance to middle and high school. More recently, high school seniors must only pass three out of the five of these end-of-course exams to graduate.
In the statement, Morath noted ETS provided support services to public school districts and charters across the state totaling approximately $20 million. These costs, which the non-profit company will assume, are above and beyond their contract with the state.
In March, Morath emphasized ETS 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.” In fact, ETS oversees the SAT, GRE, and a host of other standardized tests used worldwide.
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 year-end yardstick. 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 while parents continue to express dissatisfaction with the role standardized testing plays in public education. Some even “opt out” their children from taking the annual exams.
In May, Breitbart Texas reported on the overall frustrations with standardized testing. Four parents from around the state sued Morath in his capacity as education commissioner, alleging the TEA did not follow a state law that shortens STAAR testing time for grades 3 through 8 to ensure 85 percent of students in grades 3–5 can complete exams in two hours and 85 percent of students in grades 6-8 can do so in three hours. On Monday, a state district judge ruled their case may continue.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.