It’s standardized testing season for Texas public school students. For some school districts, test time means missing documents, computer glitches and shoddy technical support.
While that may not be a completely fair characterization of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test, these were some of the problems that plagued the assessment last year. By any yardstick, it was a disaster that the Texas Education Agency laid at the feet of testing company ETS, which administers the exam. The agency fined ETS over $5 million, and asked the company to invest another $15 million to address the problems.
This week, another round of testing begins. Kids, their schools and parents are all wondering how it will play out this time.
Dr. Greg Smith, superintendent of Clear Creek Independent School District near Houston, says he hopes for a testing season that’s free of last year’s obstacles.
“Last year was quite eventful. We did have students who were taking online tests that were in the midst of it and then suddenly the information would disappear from the screen,” Smith says. “It took several days to determine whether or not the information was received, if the information was even scored.”
Problems like this, though not devastating in the long-run did cause inconvenience and confusion to kids who Smith says were already under pressure to perform well.
“There’s students who are coming to school nauseous – that are excited, worried. So it’s a big day for them, no doubt,” Smith says.
A little over a year ago, testing problems prompted Smith and other school superintendents write a letter to the TEA Commissioner saying that there was a lack of competency in the entire testing system. Smith now says he feels more confident that ETS will be able to take care of testing problems.
“We understand that ETS has put in over 20 million dollars in changes and they are prepared to try to minimize the number of problems that they would have this year compared to the 14,000 that were identified last year,” Smith says.
As a best-case scenario, Smith says he hopes the testing agency will remember the consequences that their actions have on the users of their assessments – the students.
“There’s just this whole innate feeling within many school districts that the high-stakes assessment and the people that are distributing it are not bearing in mind what the users are going through,” he says.
So far Smith says smooth distribution of materials has given him hope for this testing season.
“I think we have some reasonable assurances from the Commissioner of Education,” Smith says. “I would have to say that my job is to make sure that we’re prepared for the worst and hope for the best.”
Written by Morgan O’Hanlon.