What Went Wrong with STAAR this Year?

What Went Wrong with STAAR this Year?

by Susan Neuhalfen

Many in Texas have long believed that there is too much emphasis placed on standardized testing. It is argued that students and educators spend too much time on standardized tests, and that there is too much pressure put on the students as well as the teachers.

Others believe that there needs to be a check and balance as to the level at which teachers and students are evaluated on the subject matter.

Every year the standardized test issues arise and every year the battle lines are drawn. This year was especially difficult since it seemed that the tests had a lot of new glitches and the fingers pointed at the new testing service.

Since 1980, Pearson Education had acted as Texas’ sole testing contractor until last year when Educational Testing Services won a four-year $280 million testing contract with the state. In March, following the STAAR tests, several schools across the state filed complaints against the new testing agency.

Houston had the longest list of troubles with approximately 100 problems listed in a letter to Texas Education Association (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath.

“The superintendents in Region 4 are concerned that Texas would use a flawed testing system for such high stakes measures,” read the letter penned by nearly 50 superintendents in the Houston area.

According to the letter, some problems that were encountered include the tests being delivered to the wrong location or the materials delivered were not complete in order to conduct the testing properly. In one case, an administrator had to deliver the tests to another district himself because ETS didn’t take care of it as promised. Some materials arrived in unmarked boxes and one came in a small Home Depot moving box. Many missed deadline deliveries. 7,000 students’ test results were included in the wrong district’s information. These are just a few of the administrative problems encountered.

Then came the student-involved issues. Schools reported that students were logged off due to inactivity when they took a break for lunch and their answers disappeared from the screen. The hope was that the answers were still on the server but that was not immediately apparent. It was even discovered that one test question didn’t have a correct answer.

Some districts received word that morning about the question in order to relay it to students and some didn’t. What was clear, according to teachers, was student frustration was affecting their performance. Standardized testing, they argued, is stressful enough without the added stress of mistakes, and not of their own doing.

Some students in the Lewisville school district were given failing grades on the writing portion of the test. It might have gone unnoticed except for the sheer number of students who received zeroes on that section. In English I, 76 tests received a zero on short answers but scored well on the composition section. The same held true in English II, 72 tests received zeroes on short answers.

Two of those students were seniors and, as is the rule, would not have graduated as a result if the district had not insisted on their tests being re-scored. The district originally paid for the tests to be re-scored as they were told by TEA that that the scores were accurate; their explanation being that the short answer questions were difficult and that was the sole reason the students scored zero.

In an April 13 letter to Commissioner Morath, LISD Superintendent Kevin Rogers stated the following concerns:

  • Of the 85 English II short answers re-scored 23 were changed (27%)
  • Of the 76 English I short answers re-scored 10 were changed (13%)

“These numbers are alarming to me,” wrote Rogers.

Richardson also sent tests for re-scoring and, and a result, 6% had scores changed.

The test score problems encountered were mostly computer-related, and since the majority of students took a paper test, they were not affected. However over 14,000 tests statewide did have to be re-scored and it was decided that those tests will not be counted with the overall scores.

Everyone involved was hesitant to re-score the tests for two reasons: 1) if problems were found, it would open up a lot of controversy and other schools wanted their tests re-scored; and 2) because of the amount of money involved in re-scoring the tests (some say it would cost approximately $25 per re-checked test).

The final straw has been the inconsistency of test results being reported in a timely manner.

In the case of 5th and 8th graders, without knowing whether students passed or failed, there is no way to know if they needed to retake the test or go to summer school. So in June, the TEA made the decision to not only waive the 5th grade and 8th grade STAAR test requirements but to cancel the re-tests scheduled for June as well.

Usually students must pass reading and math STAAR tests in 5th and 8th grade in order to promote to their next grade level. If the child doesn’t pass after three tests, it is up to the principal, teacher and parents to decide whether or not a student advances. Because the TEA Commissioner decided to waive the requirement—which he can do through state law— the decision will now be left to the individual districts as to how to handle the question of advancement.

Results on STAAR and end-of-course (EOC) exams affect academic ratings state-wide and by school, and can also determine whether students graduate. They are held as a standard for teachers and schools and reflect upon both, depending on the overall performance of the school. The new teacher evaluation system in Texas, which goes into effect in July, is also affected by STAAR scores.

It is unclear at this time what measures will be taken against the new agency to either correct or repeal the contract.


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