Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman
This year’s STAAR testing scores should not be used to rate schools or determine whether a student should graduate or advance to the next grade, the head of the Texas Association of School Administrators wrote in a letter to Education Commissioner Mike Morath this week that outlined widespread problems with how this spring’s tests were delivered, scored and administered.
“The numerous testing irregularities reported this year do not encourage confidence in the accuracy of student scores, the fairness of the administration across all student populations, or in the security of student identifiable information,” the group’s executive director, Johnny Veselka, wrote in the letter. “Assigning accountability ratings based on such data will only compound the situation and will not reflect a true snapshot of either Texas students or schools.”
Issues first surfaced during the March administration of the STAAR exams, when school districts reported problems with online tests that caused students to lose answers. More than 14,000 exams were impacted by the computer glitch, Morath announced early last month at a State Board of Education meeting, calling the problem “simply unacceptable.”
The 14,220 exams affected by the computer glitch will not factor into school ratings under the state’s accountability system, Morath told the 15-member board. However, he has said all the other exams administered still would.
“We’re continuing to gather data from the field on issues associated with this year’s testing administration so you know we have to have evidence, somewhat hard evidence, that test results might not be valid,” Morath told the Tribune on Thursday, noting that tests are still being administered this week. (Eighth-graders take social studies exams Thursday, and all make-up exams must be administered by Friday.)
“Testing is an emotional issue and I think a lot of people have emotional responses to it, but we’re trying to make decisions based upon the best evidence,” he continued.
Asked what would happen if the state finds hard evidence of invalid test results, Morath said it would depend but that “we are very much open-minded in our focus on trying to do what is in the best interest of our students.”
Several other STAAR testing problems have emerged since the computer glitch in March, including inaccurate scoring and tests being shipped to the wrong location. The group’s letter to Morath details dozens of issues based on a statewide survey of school districts. They include districts receiving test results for students not enrolled in their district and improper handling of sensitive student information, including Social Security numbers.
While certain problems are bound to arise when administering a test to millions of students, “what is unprecedented this year is the scope and magnitude of issues associated with the STAAR administration that affect students, teachers, and administrators,” Veselka wrote in the letter to Morath.
But many of the problems cited in the letter affected only a small number of students and so may not be representative, Morath said Thursday.
“That can pretty quickly fill up an eight-page letter from TASA,” he said.
This is the first school year that New Jersey-based Educational Testing Services developed and administered the STAAR exam after the state scrapped its longtime contract with London-based Pearson, which had held the contract since Texas began requiring state student assessments in the 1980s. ETS is known for administering the graduate school admissions test, known as the GRE.
The company has ignored requests for comment or deferred to the state education agency.
The state is penalizing the company for the computer glitch and will reconsider its contract if the issue that caused it is not resolved by this month, Morath told the 15-member education board in April.
“That’s something we continue to monitor,” Morath said Thursday when asked whether the issues had been resolved. “We continue to gather feedback pretty aggressively to try to resolve any issues that are found and to ensure that ETS is fixing the various issues that they had in the last testing administration.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comment from Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.
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