Texas education officials advised districts to suspend the first day of STAAR testing after thousands of students showed up in person and were prevented from taking the standardized test online because of widespread technical issues across the state.
“If your students have been able to access the test, they should continue testing. If your students have not been able to access the test, they should be dismissed from testing until the issue has been resolved,” the message from the Texas Education Agency said.
Texas officials mandated that students take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness in person this year at monitored test sites, although millions of students are still conducting their studies remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The outages are 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 those versions have been able to go forward with testing.
Educational Testing Service, one of the companies the state contracts to develop and administer the test, is investigating the issue, according to the TEA message. STAAR tests usually have a four- or five-hour time limit, depending on their subject, and testing is scheduled to occur until May 14. TEA has not yet provided guidance on how schools can administer a makeup for today’s test.
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 ISD waited for almost two hours in person to take the test. Dick Frazier, a music teacher in Austin ISD, also said there was a shortage of devices in his district for all the students who showed up to take the online 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 elementary and middle schooler who don’t show up or who fail the STAAR test this year. Texas officials have said the test would not affect students’ ability to move up to the next grade.
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.”
Online STAAR testing has faced technical issues before. In 2018, software kicked thousands of students out of the test while it was still going and didn’t let them log back on. In 2016, computer problems statewide affected more than 14,000 tests.
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.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.