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Texas education officials advised school districts to suspend the first day of STAAR testing after thousands of students showed up in person and were prevented from taking the standardized test online because of widespread technical issues across the state.
“If your students have been able to access the test, they should continue testing. If your students have not been able to access the test, they should be dismissed from testing until the issue has been resolved,” the message from the Texas Education Agency said.
Texas officials mandated that students take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness in person this year at monitored test sites, although millions of students are still learning remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The issues affected districts administering the tests online and ranged from slow response times to students being unable to log in to the test. Writing tests for fourth and seventh graders were disrupted, as were English I tests for high schoolers, according to the TEA. Online testing will resume Wednesday.
The TEA plans to transition the test fully online by the 2022-23 academic year. For districts that also planned on administering paper tests with Scantrons, students taking those versions have been able to go forward with testing.
“We understand the frustration this has caused students, parents, teachers, and administrators,” the TEA statement said. “What happened today is completely unacceptable.”
Educational Testing Service, one of the companies the state contracts to develop and administer the test, is investigating the issue, according to the TEA message. STAAR tests usually have a four- or five-hour time limit, depending on the subject, and testing is scheduled to continue until May 14. According to the news release from the education agency, ETS will no longer administer statewide testing services after this spring. Cambium Assessment, another commercial standardized testing company, will take over those duties starting in the 2021-22 school year.
“All involved in public education in Texas should expect better than what they have experienced today,” TEA announced. “We are working to ensure that our students do not experience future testing issues.”
Dr. Mark Henry, superintendent for Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, said online testing was down statewide starting before 9 a.m.
Students in Austin ISD waited for almost two hours in person to take the test. Dick Frazier, a music teacher in Austin ISD, also said there was a shortage of devices in his district for all the students who showed up to take the online test.
“In some instances, these kids have never been to our school before, because they were in the pandemic all of last year and have been in the pandemic this year,” Frazier said.
While the test is required this year, there is no penalty for elementary and middle school students who don’t show up or who fail the STAAR test this year. Texas officials have said the test would not affect students’ ability to move up to the next grade.
But high school students must pass five subject-specific courses by the time they graduate, a requirement that will not be waived this year. Henry said that expecting students to take a high-stakes standardized test in person this spring was “silly,” and he attributed the push to administer the STAAR this year to the state’s $64 million contract with the testing company.
“There’s a lot of pressure on people to make sure those contracts are delivered,” Henry said. “So this spring, testing is not about improving academic performance. It’s about improving the bottom line of a testing company.”
Online STAAR testing has faced technical issues before. In 2018, software kicked thousands of students out of the test while it was still going and didn’t let them log back on. In 2016, computer problems statewide affected more than 14,000 tests.
Disclosure: Educational Testing Service has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.