May 24, 2024


Built General Tough

State officials reporting ‘completely unacceptable’ STAAR online testing issues

Texas Education Agency officials Tuesday reported “completely unacceptable” technical issues with the state’s standardized testing online platform, putting even greater scrutiny on legislators’ push to make nearly all students take the exams on computers in the coming years.

In a statement, TEA leaders said their testing vendor, Educational Testing Services, “experienced problems with their database system,” causing log-in and test administration snags on the first day of the state’s primary testing season.

The glitch prompted state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) who authored a bill last legislative session moving Texas toward a significant expansion of online standardized testing by 2022-23, to declare that “it’s clear we’re going to need more time to do this.”

TEA officials said they were still analyzing how many students were impacted. Fourth- and seventh-grade students were set for State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness writing exams Tuesday, while some high school students were scheduled for English I end-of-course tests.

About 13 percent of Texas public school students took STAAR online in –19, the most recent year with available data, while the rest used paper exams.

“All involved in public education in Texas should expect better than what they have experienced today,” TEA administrators said in a statement. “We are working to ensure that our students do not experience future testing issues.”

Educational Testing Services officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Administrators in two of the state’s largest districts, Houston and Conroe ISDs, reported that some — but not all — online test-takers experienced technical issues. Houston ISD Interim Chief Academic Officer Yolanda Rodriguez said district leaders were still gauging the extent of the malfunction.

“We had some campuses where many of the online testers were affected, and then we had some where they weren’t affected at all or the system just slowed down on them,” Rodriguez said.

Conroe officials said about 15,000 of the district’s 64,800 students were scheduled to take STAAR exams Tuesday. Of those, about 1,600 were registered for online tests, with an unknown number tripped up by glitches.

“Although this issue was outside of Conroe ISD’s control, we echo the sentiments shared by TEA and understand the frustration this has caused students, parents, teachers, and administrators.” Conroe officials wrote in a message to families.

TEA officials said districts can plan to resume online testing Wednesday.

The problems arose Tuesday amid two major shifts in Texas’ approach to high-stakes tests, which are used to issue state accountability ratings and contribute to student promotion and graduation decisions.

TEA officials will officially replace Educational Testing Services as the state’s STAAR administration vendor later this year with Cambium Assessment. Educational Testing Services holds a six-year contract worth up to $440 million that expires in August. Cambian Assement’s four-year contract runs through 2024 with a maximum payout of $262 million.

At the same time, state legislators are moving toward having nearly all students participate online in STAAR by 2022-23, citing the potential for faster results and more interactive tests, among other benefits.

In a study published in January examining the feasibility of transitioning to online STAAR administration, TEA and Texas A&M University officials reported the state was “relatively close” to having the tools to dramatically expand web-based testing by 2022-23.

Still, concerns remain about potential pitfalls of moving exams online.

Educational Testing Services experienced numerous technical issues in 2016, prompting TEA officials to seek $5.7 million in damages and ask the company for another $15 million in upgrades, and two separate glitches slowed down online test administration in 2018. The issues combined to impact about 85,000 students taking exams.