Temple ISD

The first day of STAAR testing was disrupted across the state after Texas education officials advised suspending the tests when a vendor experienced a failure that prevented thousands of students from accessing the assessments.

Temple Independent School District officials said they notified parents of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness disruption at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

“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,” Texas Education Agency said in a message to districts.

TEA officials mandated that students take the STAAR tests in person this year at monitored test sites, although millions of students are still learning remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic, The Texas Tribune reported.

The issues affected districts administering the tests online and ranged from slow response times to students being unable to log in to the test, the Tribune reported. Writing tests for fourth and seventh graders were disrupted, as were English I tests for high schoolers, TEA said.

Online testing will resume Wednesday.

“We understand the frustration this has caused students, parents, teachers, and administrators,” the TEA statement said. “What happened today is completely unacceptable.”

TISD said in a news release that the testing complications were unacceptable.

“We understand that such complications compromise the integrity of the student assessment process and are not acceptable,” the district said in its news release. “We want to be clear that these issues occurred with the (educational testing) system and not within Temple ISD.”

Educational Testing Service, which the state contracts to develop and administer the test, is investigating the issue, TEA said in its message.

STAAR tests usually have a four- or five-hour time limit, depending on the subject, and testing is scheduled to continue until May 14, The Tribune reported.

ETS will no longer administer statewide testing services after this spring, according to the news release from the education agency. Cambium Assessment, another commercial standardized testing company, will take over those duties starting in the 2021-22 school year, according to The Tribune.

“All involved in public education in Texas should expect better than what they have experienced today,” TEA said. “We are working to ensure that our students do not experience future testing issues.”

The system failure was apparent when morning testing began, TISD said.

TEA sent a message to school districts at 9:39 a.m. stating that “Should the issue persist, they (TEA) will make a determination whether to stop online testing for the day.”

At 10:25 a.m., TEA sent a second communication to school districts informing them that connectivity issues have not been resolved, TISD said.

Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina released the following statement on the STAAR glitches.

“Here we go again. Even in normal years, the STAAR testing regime is a waste of classroom time and taxpayer dollars,” Molina said in a statement. “During a pandemic, it is absurd to require students to take a test that doesn’t count and won’t accurately measure the learning loss that state officials claim it will.”

“Throughout the state, many students who have been learning virtually from home all school year to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19 trudged back to campuses today to take the STAAR only to encounter online glitches in its administration,” Molina said. “Now, many of them will have to return to campuses to try again. This is absurd, risky for the children and their families and another reason to cancel testing this year.”

Belton ISD Superintendent Matt Smith said the system failure added undue stress to students, staff and families.

“Finite taxpayer dollars and student instructional time are being wasted for testing results that yield minimal benefits,” Smith said in a statement. “TEA must recognize with more than just public statements that such squandering of resources is not acceptable.”

Technical issues have hampered online STAAR tests in recent years. More than 14,000 tests were affected in 2016 by statewide computer problems. And in 2018, software issues stopped some tests and wouldn’t allow students to log back in.