Texas will throw out more high-stakes STAAR testing results after talking to school administrators who said more students were affected by crashing computers than previously reported.
The Texas Education Agency originally said about 71,000 students were affected when computers kept crashing during the administration of the tests in April and May. The TEA said some students were unable to log on for up to three hours because of server issues when taking the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness tests.
Late Friday afternoon, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath sent a letter to school district superintendents across the state saying he is widening the state’s net for determining how bad the problems were and how many students were affected.
The TEA officials said Friday that they don’t know yet how many more students were hit by the crashes, but added that the agency is working with the state’s vendor — Educational Testing Services — to identify the additional students by June 8.
“We are expanding the criteria to also include students who had an inactive test session lasting longer than 15 minutes or students who logged in more than three times during the event,” he said in the letter.
That means those tests will be among the 71,000 already identified to not be included in the academic accountability unless doing so would positively affect a school’s rating.
“While we understand the frustration of the teachers and students, TEA’s intent is to mitigate the impact of the online testing issues for those students who were significantly affected,” Morath said.
It’s also unclear how many students who expected to graduate at the end of the school year may have been affected by the STAAR crashes.
Many graduations have already taken place or will occur this weekend. Most students should have been told by now whether they were expected to graduate.
Morath reminded districts in his letter to administrators that he does not have the authority to waive graduation requirements for high-schoolers who might have been affected by the glitches. Seniors are required to pass five required end-of-course exams to earn a diploma.
However, the state already has systems in place that may have helped seniors graduate even if they were affected by the computer problems.
Seniors could have met requirements through substitute assessments — such as the college entrance ACT or SAT tests — or by having the STAAR requirement individually waived by a graduation committee typically composed of teachers, administrators and parents. Last school year, for example, 11,422 seniors statewide graduated through such committees.
Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said his district had a normal number of students graduating through the committees, which was 530 last year. Arlington ISD also didn’t experience an increase, officials there said. That district had 302 students graduate through the committees last year.
In April, the online connection between servers and the computers where students were taking STAAR tests was disrupted for about 20 minutes. Some districts reported longer delays.
The state initially determined how many students were affected by the glitches based on whether they were logged out of an active test session or shown as not being able to log into a testing session.
May’s testing included about 90 minutes of connection slowdown. Officials determined the number of students affected at that time by identifying tests that were inactive for longer than 30 minutes and counting students who logged in more than five times as students who were affected by the problems.
A spokesman for the testing vendor issued a statement last week saying this year’s problems were caused by human error, not a defect in the systems. He did not elaborate.
“ETS takes full responsibility for the recent connectivity issues with the online STAAR testing program and apologizes for the inconvenience to students, teachers and district officials,” ETS spokesman Thomas Ewing said in that statement. “We understand the importance of these assessments and strive to make the experience as stress-free as possible. We are committed to ensuring a similar event will not occur in the future and there will be a positive testing experience across the state.”
This is the third year ETS has administered the STAAR tests. There were widespread problems with testing in 2016, too. Then, about 14,200 students had their answers erased during online testing and districts across the state experienced problems with the shipping of testing materials, grading errors and more. ETS was fined $5.7 million by the state and had to spend an additional $15 million on improvements.
But the problems resurfaced this year. So far this year, ETS has been fined $100,000.
Texas is set to reopen bids for the testing contract this month.
STAAR scores are treated as important markers for both individual students and the schools and school districts where they are educated. Scores can determine whether a student is held back a grade; whether a teacher gets a raise; or even whether a school needs to shut down or be subject to state intervention.
Morath has already said fifth- and eighth-graders who were affected by the crashes won’t have to retest this summer or face grade promotion committees to move on to the next grade. In general, students in those grades must pass STAAR first unless the committee determines otherwise and promotes them.