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STAAR test glitches 'simply unacceptable,' Texas education chief says

Updated at 4:21 p.m. on Wed., March 30: School districts will decide whether students affected by Tuesday’s STAAR computer snafus must re-take their exams. “Rather, they should determine on an individual student basis whether continuing testing is in the best interest of the student, ” the Texas Education Agency says. More from the state here.

Original post: The state’s education chief called technical problems that some students experienced with Tuesday’s STAAR test “simply unacceptable.”

“The technical issues experienced today during the online administration of STAAR are simply unacceptable. Such issues undermine the hard work of our teachers and students. Kids in the classroom should never suffer from mistakes made by adults, ” Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a statement late Tuesday.

Students at some school districts across Texas, from Arlington ISD to Austin ISD, took their STAAR writing tests online but did not have all their answers saved. This happened when students tried logging back in after they’d already logged out once, been kicked off the system for 30 minutes of inactivity, or temporarily lost their Internet connection, the state agency said.

The Austin American-Statesman first reported the problems in Austin ISD and at least three other Central Texas districts. Students tried to submit their tests online but got error messages.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman, said state officials are still trying to determine how many students and districts were affected by the computer problems. She said most students today took a paper test and not an online one.

This is the first year that Educational Testing Service is administering most of the STAAR testing program. But ETS is not new to handling such large-scale tests, Morath said, “so I cannot accept the transition to a new testing vendor as an excuse for what occurred.”

ETS sent an email to Texas school districts apologizing for the frustration and inconvenience.

“This is a critical issue and we have several teams investigating it, ” the company wrote. It said early findings show that computers did capture students’ answers, “but we need to do further investigation to confirm that this is the case.”

In Arlington ISD, the problem affected students in special education who took their writing tests online and logged off at some point, district spokeswoman Leslie Johnston said.

ETS told Arlington officials they believe the computer server saved students’ answers. The district is supposed to get more information from the testing company and state education agency before testing resumes Wednesday morning, Johnston said.

Morath, a former Dallas ISD trustee, said state education officials also share responsibility for making sure testing goes smoothly.

“As an agency, we did not live up to that commitment, ” he said. “TEA will continue working with our school districts, charters and ETS to address these and any other outstanding issues.”

Before ETS won a multimillion-dollar contract last year to handle most of Texas’ standardized testing, that job was handled by a company called Pearson. They had some testing glitches along the way, too. FairTest, a national testing watchdog group, even keeps a running list of computerized test foul-ups.

Students take the STAAR writing test in fourth and seventh grade. Results on STAAR and end-of-course exams carry huge weight in Texas public schools. They drive state academic ratings, and they can determine everything from how much teachers make to whether students graduate.


Interesting facts:

"Education Nation" is NBC News' initiative to engage citizens in a solutions-focused conversation about the state of education in the United States. The initiative was launched in the fall of 2010 and continues to be a key feature of the news division through local...

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