Texas STAAR faces technical problems, leaving thousands of students unable to access test

Tuesday was first day of statewide test

A Texas elementary school student works on a laptop. Credit: Erich Schlegel for USA Today Network via REUTERS

Thousands of Texas students who showed up in-person to take the STAAR tests in the middle of a pandemic are sitting idly while education officials frantically investigate the source of widespread technical issues that have prevented the test from being administered.

Texas officials mandated that students take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR test, in-person this year at monitored test sites, despite millions of students still conducting their studies remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tuesday is the first day of the statewide test.

The outages appear to be affecting districts administering the tests online, a first for a majority of districts. TEA plans to transition the test fully online by the 2022-23 academic year. For districts that also planned on administering paper tests with scantrons, students taking non-virtual versions have been able to go forward with testing.

TEA is monitoring the situation and may stop online testing for the day, according to an email from the agency’s student assessment division. The email said Educational Testing Service, one of the companies the state contracts to develop and administer the test, is investigating the issue.

Dr. Mark Henry, superintendent for Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, said online testing has been down statewide since before 9 a.m.

Students in Austin Independent School District have been waiting for at least an hour to take the test. Dick Frazier, a music teacher in Austin ISD, also said there is a shortage of devices for students in his district for all the students who showed up to take the test.

“In some instances, these kids have never been to our school before, because they were in the pandemic all of last year and have been in the pandemic this year,” Frazier said.

While the test is required this year, there is no penalty for fifth and eighth graders who don’t show up or fail the STAAR test this year. Texas officials have said the test would not affect students’ ability to move up to the next grades.

But high school students must pass five subject-specific courses by the time they graduate, a requirement that will not be waived this year. Henry said that expecting students to take a high-stakes standardized test in-person this spring was “silly,” and he attributed the push to administer the STAAR this year to the state’s large contract with the testing company.

“Any time you have a $100 million testing contract in place, there’s a lot of pressure on people to make sure those contracts are delivered,” Henry said. “So this spring, testing is not about improving academic performance. It’s about improving the bottom line of a testing company.”

Disclosure: Educational Testing Service has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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