Failure Testing Texas

San Antonio Express-News Calls for Halt to Use of Botched Tests for High Stakes

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The San Antonio Express-News published a blistering editorial calling for a halt to state testing until all the errors and computer glitches were resolved. This may mean forever, given the track record of testing companies that produce online assessments.


Fifty superintendents from the Houston area wrote a letter to the new state superintendent Mike Morath outlining the problems their students and teachers had encountered.


As the editorial states:


There are inherent problems in any massive project, but this is no simple undertaking. The STAAR test — the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness — is high stakes. The scores impact schools, teachers and students. Failing grades can cause students in the fifth and eighth grades to be held back, and high school students who don’t pass three of the five end-of-course exams will not get a diploma. Teachers’ evaluations will be based in part on how well students perform on the STAAR test.


Until all the problems are resolved, school administrators are asking the Texas Education Agency to delay use of scores for the alternative test for students needing special accommodations due to a learning disability. They make a valid point.


It appears that the state’s new testing vendor, New Jersey-based Educational Testing Services, commonly referred to as ETS, was ill-equipped to take on the four-year $280-million contract. There is no excuse for the company to ask test takers not to answer a question because there was no correct answer or having to scramble at the last minute to certify personnel to grade the test.


School districts can ask that tests be re-evaluated, but that action comes at their own expense. Lewisville ISD appropriated $50,000 to have thousands of English tests retaken by their high school students after many high performers scored a zero on that portion of the test. School districts should not be forced to pay that expense because the state made a bad call when it awarded the testing contract.


There is something terribly amiss here, and it needs to be fully resolved before the test scores can be given much weight. Morath has said ETS will be held financially liable for the problems and could lose the state’s business if the issues are not adequately resolved. That is good news for Texas taxpayers but does not adequately resolve all the issues.


Too much is at stake to merely assure everyone it will be done better next time. The state should not go forward with a testing system few have confidence is working properly. There is no do-over for students who get held back, the high school seniors who won’t walk the graduation stage or teachers whose careers are damaged.

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