Education News

Texas School Districts Report Widespread Testing Glitches With Online STAAR

State officials announced Wednesday that students won’t be forced to complete the exam if they couldn’t finish due to technical problems.

This week marked the start of testing season in Texas public schools, and districts across the state reported problems with online exams. Now the Texas Education Agency is trying to figure out what went wrong.

Schools in Cy-Fair, Houston and Katy reported glitches, along with districts in Central Texas, East Texas and Amarillo.

Many students seemed to lose their answers on the writing test after they took a break or were timed out due to inactivity. And the problems affected some special education students and English language learners, for example in Cy-Fair where theirs were the only online exams on Tuesday.

The Texas Education Agency said that it's the first time it has faced such widespread testing problems, and the Education Commissioner Mike Morath has called them “unacceptable.”

“Something of a statewide nature like this, I'll be honest, I'm not remembering anything of that nature,” said DeEtta Culbertson, spokeswoman with the agency.

She said that they are still counting up all the reports. And they're trying to figure out what caused the problem from the testing vendor, Educational Testing Service, or ETS.

“Once we have more information from ETS as to why this occurred, or if they can determine why it occurred, hopefully this is an issue that can be dealt with and not reoccur,” Culbertson said.

The bulk of STAAR exams occur in May.

The online glitches come during the first year of a four-year contract with the New Jersey-based ETS to administer Texas standardized exams.

It won the $280 million contract last year after Texas dumped Pearson Education, which had been the state's testing vendor for decades.

State officials announced Wednesday that students won't be forced to complete the exam if they couldn’t finish due to technical problems.

In an email to districts, charters and other testing coordinators, TEA said that they should feel no obligation to do so.

“Rather, they should determine on an individual student basis whether continuing testing is in the best interest of the student,” the guidance read, adding that there will be no adverse consequences for the students or the districts that don’t resume testing.

The STAAR is a high-stakes exam: In some grades, students have to pass the exam to graduate to the next grade and some districts, like Houston, use test results to evaluate teachers.

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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