Some students in Texas experienced technical problems this week while taking the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests, leading Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to say that the glitches were "simply unacceptable."
He added the issues that occurred with the online test had undermined the teachers' and students' hard work, and he felt the kids in the classroom were suffering because of mistakes made by adults.
Holly K. Hacker of The Dallas Morning News writes that students from some schools across the state did not have all their answers saved. These problems occurred when students tried to log back in after they had logged out once, were automatically logged out because of 30 minutes of inactivity, or lost their Internet connection completely.
State officials are attempting to determine how many districts and students were affected, says Debbie Ratcliffe, a Texas Education Agency (TEA) spokesperson. Some students took their tests with paper and pencil and not online, she added.
This school year is the first time that Educational Testing Service (ETS) is managing most of the testing program. But by no means is ETS a novice at administering large-scale tests. Morath said he could not use the move to a different testing vendor as a reason for the difficulties.
"This is a critical issue and we have several teams investigating it," ETS 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."
The problem in Arlington Independent School District (ISD) involved special education students who took their writing tests online and logged off of the computer at some time, according to district spokeswoman Leslie Johnston.
A former Dallas ISD trustee, Morath said it was also the responsibility of state education officials to ensure that testing goes as planned.
The former vendor of tests for the state of Texas was testing and curriculum giant Pearson, which had its share of glitches as well.
ETS has a multi-million dollar contract with the state to handle most of its standardized testing. A national watchdog group, FairTest, keeps a list of computerized testing blunders. They assert that the numerous computer exam administration problems are a result of using technologies that were rushed into use by political mandates. This rush, and the ill-prepared companies paid to oversee them, were just not ready to implement the tests correctly.
The STAAR writing test is given to students in the fourth and seventh grade. End-of-course and STAAR tests affect state academic ratings and can decide everything from whether students graduate to teachers' salaries. Not Your Ordinary Schools (NYOS) Charter School told Erin Cargile of KXAN-TV that 72 of their students had problems with the online test. Some would not take the writing test again because it was stressful enough the first time around. Others did try to retake the exam by recreating their answers and essays after they had spent all morning creating their original responses.
The STAAR tests began on Tuesday for all state school districts and included not only 4th- and 7th-grade writing tests, but also the end-of-year English I exam, writes Julie Chang for Austin American-Statesman.