Texas Fines Educational Testing Service Over Problems

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has announced that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is imposing a penalty on the company that administers and develops the state’s contentious State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR} tests at a cost of $20.7 million.

The damages are being demanded based on an array of logistical and technical incidents cited during the spring testing period that caused thousands of students to lose answers to online test questions, reports Kiah Collier for The Texas Tribune.

The agency is charging the Educational Testing Service (ETS) $5.7 million in “liquidated damages” and is also requesting that the company invest $15 million in an action plan that would analyze the areas of concern that came up during last year’s examinations. Problem areas included shipping, testing, scoring, and reporting results.

“I believe this combination of liquidated damages with an additional financial commitment from ETS reflects the correct balance of accountability for the recent past and safeguards for the future,” Morath said in a statement.

This amount is the largest fine ever assessed in Texas against a testing vendor, totaling, according to the Texas Education Agency spokesperson Debbie Ratcliffe, $120,000.

The STAAR testing began for the first time last spring after the state cut its ties to the British testing company Pearson Education. Texas also fined Pearson to the tune of $120,000. The company kept a small part of their contract with the state to test specific subgroups of pupils. The assessment was due to “some late deliveries and a service disruption one day in April,” Ratcliffe said in an email.

The state-required test is given to fifth graders, eighth graders, and high school students. Pupils are expected to pass the exams before they are allowed to move on to the next grade. Scores on the tests also influence school district and individual school accountability ratings.

The delay in reporting scores was a particularly damaging issue causing Morath no choice but to drop the grade advancement consequences for fifth and eighth learners. He was also forced to exclude the exams that were affected by the computer glitch from the school accountability scores.

“ETS apologizes for the operational shortcomings during this year’s STAAR program,” the test vendor said in a news release Tuesday. “Our most important goal is to deliver the high-quality program the students and educators of Texas deserve, and we will continue to improve programs and processes to achieve that objective.”

Julie Chang, reporting for the Statesman, says if ETS does not repair the problems by December’s end, the TEA could impose further fines against the organization.

ETS also administers the GRE and the SAT. The errors made by the company during last year’s examinations caused Houston-area superintendents and the Texas Association of School Administrators to call for Morath to eliminate the test scores as part of the data used to rate districts and schools. But Morath did not believe the damage was severe enough to do so.

According to the Community Impact’s Christopher Shelton, TEA spokesperson Lauren Callahan said ETS would continue to administer the exams for the “foreseeable future.” Over the past month, state officials have debated the future of STAAR testing. The costs assumed by ETS are over and above their contract with the state.

In May, an article published by Breitbart Texas noted the overall frustrations with standardized testing itself. Four parents from different parts of the state sued Morath alleging TEA did not follow state law. The legislation requires that STAAR testing time in grades three and eight be shortened so that 85% of students in grades three-five are able to complete exams in two hours and 85% of pupils in grades six-eight can do the same in three hours, writes Merrill Hope of Breitbart.