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Home | Tag Archives: STAAR

Tag Archives: STAAR

Texas Education Agency Penalizes Testing Vendor Over STAAR Glitches

The Texas Education Agency will levy a $100,000 financial penalty against the New Jersey-based company that develops and administers standardized tests, after tens of thousands of Texas students were kicked out of the testing software or encountered connection problems while taking computerized State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams in April and May.

The state agency will solicit bids for a new contract in June, seeking a new company to replace the Educational Testing Service once its four-year, $280 million contract ends in August 2019. This spring’s testing issues come two years after ETS flubbed the administration of the STAAR exam in 2016 and Texas schools saw numerous logistical issues with online testing, scoring results and shipping of tests.

ETS representatives did not immediately return requests for comment.

Fifth and eighth graders affected by the testing glitches who failed their math or reading tests will not have to re-take the tests in June in order to be promoted to the next grade. Schools will be allowed to use “local discretion” in order to decide which students can be promoted and which should be held back, said TEA spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson.

Test results for students affected by the glitches will not be taken into account in campus or district accountability ratings this August, unless their scores would help their district’s ratings.

After 2016’s glitches, the education agency forced ETS to pay $5.7 million in “liquidated damages” and asked it to invest $15 million of its own money to address the numerous logistical issues that plagued test-takers that spring, including online testing and shipping, test scoring and reporting results.

“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,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said at the time.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: ALIYYA SWABY – The Texas Tribune

Analysis: Texans Hate Standardized Tests, but Govern by the Results

The best way to improve public education in Texas? Cut the number of standardized tests students have to take, according to a February 2017 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. That answer came in ahead of increased funding, vouchers, higher pay for teachers, incentives for prospective teachers, grading of schools, expanded pre-k, more charter schools and more online earning.

Texans really, really hate those tests. They are also deeply unhappy with the state’s school finance system — particularly the (majority) part of it that’s funded by property taxes.

It’s easy to go in circles on education, hoping for better information about how the students and schools are doing while at the same time deploring the pressure of the tests that — in an ideal situation — would be providing just that information.

In an “ask me anything” session conducted by the Tribune on Facebook this week, the conversation turned to testing — and quickly revealed some of the anger and frustration about the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exam. That echoed Kaitlin Barnes, a fifth-grade teacher from Houston who started off a column in TribTalk a week ago by saying the test should’ve been blocked under the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment; that’s the one that bars cruel and unusual punishment.

It’s a good week for the flare-up: Kids across the state are taking the tests, with another round (for a different set of students) coming up next month.

Intentionally or not, Texas legislators piled on the political messages for this time of year, scheduling those tests in the same part of the calendar when home and other property owners are getting their annual assessment notices.

As this sample shows, the test is hard. Many detractors, like Barnes, acknowledge the intent even while they’re hating on STAAR.

It makes sense to test students, to see how they’re coming along. And it makes sense for the state to test students and schools, to see if the money spent on public education is actually resulting in a more educated public. It’s hard to tell if a “B” grade in El Paso is the same as a “B” in Tyler — whether the schools in every part of the state are educating kids. That’s the reason for giving the same test everywhere — to get comparable grades.

It also turns out to be one of the best ways to start an argument, whether the test in question is STAAR or one of its predecessors. Teachers regularly complain that the content of the tests doesn’t properly match up with what they’re teaching — that they end up teaching kids what will be on the state’s tests instead of what they would be teaching them otherwise. Angry parents have gone to court to try to stop STAAR.

The accountability attached directly and indirectly to the tests, sometimes for perfectly understandable reasons, produces unreasonable pressures that trickle down from the state to school districts, to principals, to teachers and to students. From students to parents, who are sometimes also known as voters, who talk to their school boards and legislators.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

The cycle is reflected in legislative (and gubernatorial) efforts to limit increases in local property taxes and to make changes to the property appraisal system. That’s just a herd of elected officials trying to make angry constituents happy, i.e., doing what they’re supposed to be doing in a representative democracy.

And it’s reflected in legislative efforts to trim the frequency and the pain of statewide tests, efforts that are tempered by a fear that testing is the only way for the state to know whether the schools around the state — imagine the best one, and also the worst one — are educating Texas kids.

Testing is a big business, too, with contract problemsoperational snafuspolicy reversals — even storm warnings.

The other side of the coin — accountability — was also evident as the kids were sweating through their exams this week. National test results show Texas and the nation stagnating in academic achievement. The state is still failing when it comes to bringing scores for Hispanic and black students in line with those for white students.

Education policymakers are working on it, promising improvement.

They know that Texans, for all the justified groaning about tests, still want to see the results.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

State Representative Calls for Suspension of Texas’ STAAR Exam

A state representative who has passed legislation aimed at reeling in Texas’ standardized testing regime is calling on the state to ditch required STAAR exams while it “tries to iron out STAAR’s many kinks.”

State Rep. Jason Isaac’s proposal comes the week after the Texas Education Agency announced it was penalizing the New Jersey-based company that develops and administers the controversial exams more than $20 million over problems that surfaced during springtime testing —including computer glitches that caused students to lose answers. It is the first year Educational Testing Services has overseen STAAR administration after the state scrapped the bulk of its longtime contract with London-based Pearson Education.

“Flawed testing practices threaten the State of Texas’ ability to fulfill our education system’s goals — and our children’s futures,” Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, said in a statement Monday. “The litany of errors being uncovered about STAAR is simply a disservice to our students, hard-working teachers, and families.”

While the state works with ETS to resolve the issues, Isaac suggested “schools be given the freedom to choose from a variety of nationally normed standardized tests.”

“School districts should not be hampered by an inefficient and ineffective system,” Isaac said. “Adding a dose of free-market philosophy to education by allowing a variety of standardized test options can only drive down costs and improve quality.”

Isaac told The Texas Tribune he will file legislation next year that would allow school districts to use something like the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills instead of STAAR. He filed a similar bill in 2013.

Last year, Isaac co-authored a bill that passed overwhelmingly requiring that 85 percent of elementary and middle school students be able to complete STAAR exams within two or three hours (two hours for 3rd through 5th grade; three hours for 6th through 8th grade.) House Bill 743 took effect last June.

A group of parents is suing the education agency, alleging it did not comply with the law this year.

“I hope my colleagues will join me when the 85th Legislative Session convenes in seeking transformational changes that will ensure that testing is a benefit, not a burden, to Texas’ students, teachers, and families,” Isaac said.

The legislative session begins in January.

Read more about the contentious STAAR exams:

Disclosure: Educational Testing Service and Pearson have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

Summer School a Tossup After Testing Mishaps

When Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced last month that the state would all but scrap the results of problem-plagued standardized tests for 5th and 8th graders, parents of students who hadn’t passed the exams were left scrambling to figure out what it meant for their children.

As far as the state was concerned, districts were free to advance every student to the next grade whether they had passed or not — no retesting required. Some parents assumed that summer school sessions to prep for the final test day would also be called off.

But Morath’s announcement — spurred by widespread problems that called into question the accuracy of scores — gave school districts wide discretion on how to proceed. Some districts decided to require summer school anyway, telling parents it was either mandatory or strongly encouraged. And many of those districts administered old STARR exams or locally crafted tests and plan to use the scores in deciding whether students will advance a grade.

Whether students attended summer school this year, and faced retainment, largely depended upon which district they attend. That left many parents involved in the blossoming anti-testing movement puzzled, or angry.

But school officials who decided to proceed with summer school emphasized that more classroom time couldn’t hurt students. Their decision was not money-driven, as some parents speculated, as fewer than 20 districts receive federal dollars for summer programs.

El Paso schools Superintendent Juan Cabrera said his district decided to continue with summer school because it was clear a lot of the students referred for summer classes because of failing STAAR scores could use the extra help.

“This was a year when all of the sudden we couldn’t assume the data was clean, but we had it scheduled,” he said. “Some students and parents were complaining about it, but we talked about how more help is not bad and make it a positive about deeper learning.”

Pflugerville schools assured parents that summer school students “have been identified through several measures as needing additional support to ensure future academic success.” And Spring schools told parents it “appreciates the Commissioner’s response to the challenges that were presented during the last administration of STAAR testing” but was “committed to helping students achieve their academic goals regardless of their performance on the test.”

Still, Morath’s announcement empowered other parents to withdraw their children from summer school, which they did mostly without issue. But many parents complained of the patchwork approach. Some took it even further.

“Those districts that held summer school for students whose only issue was failing STAAR did so without legal authority to do so,” said Ben Becker, chairman of the Committee to Stop STAAR, a grassroots group that sued the state over STAAR in May.

After Morath’s announcement, Pampa resident April Taylor Lee called the local school district and asked, “What’s the point of this?”

“All the surrounding towns canceled absolutely everything,” said Lee, who ended up sending her rising 9th grader to summer school because she was worried about the potential consequences. He passed a math exam “the teachers came up with” with a score of 75 and should be promoted, she said.

State data shows that almost all 5th and 8th graders are promoted regardless of their performance on the STAAR exam.

“To me, if it’s going to be a statewide decision that they’re not going to count this test, then there should be a statewide decision that they will have no summer school,” she said. “It shouldn’t be up to the teachers to pick the questions and which school’s going to go and which school’s not.”

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

Study Panel Not Ready to Ditch STAAR

Despite widespread frustration over mishaps with the administration of this year’s STAAR tests, a special panel studying Texas’ standardized testing regime says it won’t propose scrapping the exams in the near future.

At its Monday meeting, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability instead agreed to recommend that the Legislature explore alternatives to the test, meaning any big changes could be years away. The panel also will encourage lawmakers to ensure high school end-of-course exams align with national college readiness measures, such as the SAT and ACT.

The meeting was the panel’s sixth, and last, opportunity to decide what proposals to include in its report to the governor and Legislature, due by Sept. 1. The 15-member panel of school administrators, legislators, advocates and businesspeople spent Monday trying to whittle down a list of 53 ideas. By the end of the day, it had reached consensus on several proposals, though facilitator Juli Fellows said she would need time to review her notes and determine just how many the committee had passed.

The panel, which was not originally scheduled to meet in June, convened because it needed more time to complete work on its recommendations after its May meeting, according to the commission’s agenda.

“I think it’s been a great process to get all the information,” said Chairman Andrew Kim, who is superintendent of Comal ISD. “I think it’s been a daunting task to go in and synthesize to the level that we need to make recommendations.”

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The panel’s debate highlighted the discord surrounding high-stakes testing. Administration of the March tests was marked by technical glitches across the state, and that was just the beginning of the problems. On Thursday, Eanes ISD told principals that Educational Testing Services — the company that took over Texas testing this year — had lost some of the district’s tests, a claim ETS denied. On Friday, Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced that 5th and 8th graders’ STAAR scores won’t be used to decide whether they advance to the next grade level.

In a blog post on Monday, Morath wrote that he made the call because of score delivery delays from ETS that left some parents uncertain whether they would need to enroll their child in summer school. He also said that the results will still be used to formulate accountability ratings for schools and districts.

State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, chair of the Senate Committee on Education and a commission member, had strong words for the administration of STAAR this year. “It’s been a total disaster,” he said in the panel discussion. “I think everyone agrees with that.”

Still, the panel did not vote to recommend getting rid of STAAR. Instead, it will likely recommend the Legislature conduct additional study of diagnostic testing options that allow teachers to get information about student performance throughout the year.

The panel also voted to recommend limiting state testing to fewer standards and increase local control of writing assessments.

Panel members broadly agreed on the need to ensure that school ratings, set to be assigned on an A-F scale by the 2017-2018 school year, are more heavily influenced by student improvement. Taylor said he worried the current system would allow schools in wealthier areas to receive a grade of A without actually improving student outcomes, while stigmatizing schools in poorer areas.

The accountability issue, however, proved difficult to navigate with questions unsettled about which tests Texas should be using.

Holly Eaton, director of professional development and advocacy at the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, has attended all of the committee’s meetings. She viewed the committee’s consensus on tying the end-of-course tests to national readiness standards as its most significant proposal.

“When you’re dealing with an issue this complex, although a group could come to consensus on general concepts, when it comes to developing specific recommendations, it’s extremely difficult, and that’s been their struggle,” Eaton said.

Granger ISD Superintendent Randy Willis, who sat in on Monday’s meeting, said he and fellow superintendents have been closely watching the panel’s work to see if it will propose changes leading to greater local control. He attributed the current anti-testing furor to years of excessive federal involvement in local schools.

“[Washington] D.C. tries to micromanage the state, and the state tries to micromanage the district,” Willis said. “This is a storm that’s been brewing for a long time.”

At a final meeting on July 27, the members hope to finalize the draft proposal before it is submitted to the governor and Legislature. Then, it will be up to elected officials to enact any statutory changes the panel recommends.

Theresa Treviño, president of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, said the panel’s reluctance to pursue big changes, especially on standardized testing, left her frustrated. Ahead of Monday’s meeting, she told the Tribune she was hopeful that the committee’s work would yield “more than a tweak.” By the afternoon, she was feeling less optimistic about the final report.

“I’m worried it’s going to be a tweak,” she said.

Disclosure: The Texas Classroom Teachers Association and Educational Testing Service have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues

Superintendents: Texas Schools Shouldn’t Be Rated on 2016 STAAR Tests

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.

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues

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