Texas Education Agency penalizes testing vendor over STAAR glitches

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath today announced three specific actions in response to online testing issues that occurred during the April and May administrations of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR®). The Commissioner’s actions include:

Test results for students impacted by online testing issues will be taken into account in this year’s campus and district accountability ratings;
State passing requirements for 5th and 8th grade students impacted by online testing issues will be waived; and

Liquidated damages in the amount of $100,000 will be assessed against ETS (the company responsible for the statewide delivery and administration of STAAR).

“As we continue to build upon our online platform to provide greater support to students, we cannot allow technical disruptions during testing,” said Commissioner Morath. “We are committed to providing a positive assessment experience for our districts and students.”

In a May 23rd letter, Commissioner Morath notified school districts and charters that TEA will exclude the results of the STAAR tests for students directly affected by the online testing issues. However, if including the results from either the April or May test administration would positively benefit a district or campus rating, that district or campus will receive the higher rating. Additional information will be provided to school systems in the next few weeks.

Commissioner Morath also announced that students in grades 5 and 8 directly affected by April or May online testing issues, and who did not perform satisfactorily on the May assessment, will not be required to retest in June. For the 2017–2018 school year, the Commissioner is waiving the requirement for grade placement committees based on results from affected subject tests. Instead, districts will be allowed to use local discretion and all relevant and available academic information (such as the recommendation of the teacher and the student’s grade in each subject) to make appropriate promotion/retention decisions for these students.

During the STAAR administration in April, 41,702 students were testing online. The connectivity slowdown on that day disrupted online testing for approximately 20 minutes. However, some districts may have been impacted for up to three hours due to login/logout issues.

The number of students impacted by the disruption was determined by establishing the number of students either being logged out of active test sessions or not being able to login to a testing session. Of the 278,434 tested students served in special education statewide, 14,673 were testing online during this specific disruption.

During the STAAR administration in May, 29,307 students encountered a connectivity slowdown of approximately 90 minutes. The students impacted by the system slowdown were determined by establishing the number of inactive test sessions lasting longer than 30 minutes and the number of students who logged in more than five times during the event. Of the 278,434 tested students served in special education statewide, 4,594 were testing online during this specific disruption.

Commissioner Morath noted the disruptions in 2018 come one year after STAAR online testing had little or no issues. However, due to the latest incidents, TEA has notified Educational Testing Service (ETS) – the company responsible for the statewide delivery and administration of STAAR – that the agency will be assessing liquidated damages in the amount of $100,000 to address the two recent events. This amount represents the maximum allowable in the ETS contract, reflects accountability for the online testing interruptions and will ensure some safeguards for the future.

The state’s current assessment services are provided through two separate contracts: (1) ETS providing STAAR and program integration; and (2) Pearson providing STAAR Alternate 2 and Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS). Commissioner Morath stated that TEA will move forward with its plans to rebid both assessment contracts, as reflected in its publicly posted schedule.

In that rebidding process, TEA will prioritize and focus on the online testing experience and functionality of the assessment. Any new contract will require greater enhancements and safeguards and will be designed to ensure the agency can offer teachers and students an innovative and comprehensive instructional system.

“TEA is committed to taking a more focused look at how we develop our online assessment program,” said Commissioner Morath in his May 23rd letter to school districts and charters. “It is important that we provide students with learning opportunities that will prepare them for the ever-growing technologies they will face in their future academic and work experiences.”

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