Frustrations grow following statewide STAAR test technical issues

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Frustrations and questions linger after STAAR testing resumes following a statewide online glitch on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, STAAR testing resumed for students across Texas, including those who could not take the standardized test on Tuesday due to systemwide connectivity issues.

Texas officials mandated that students take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR test, in-person this year at monitored test sites, despite millions of students still conducting their studies remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Jackie Anderson, president of Houston American Federation of Teachers, was among the parents and students questioning why the STAAR test was mandated following the ongoing challenges teachers and students are facing due to the pandemic.

"We already know where students are," Anderson said. "We know that they are going to come in behind and that test is not an accurate measure of where they are anyway and so that's why we pushed back on it in the beginning. It's a total waste of time and money."

Anderson said there needs to be a more effective solution that relieves the pressures of standardized testing for both students and teachers.

"First of all, we need to stop spending millions of dollars on the STAAR test," Anderson said. "We need to stop giving the test. You know, there's other things that can be done that would give way more information about where students are and that's what we need to look into."

Maria Fernandez is the mother of two HISD students. Fernandez said she is trying to complete the process to have one of her students opt out from taking the STAAR test. Fernandez said she was not surprised after hearing the news that the STAAR test was suspended on the first day due to technical difficulties.

"We have to know that the data that we're going to get from this is not going to be useful or meaningful because it has been a strange year," Fernandez said. ""The students, it's been so hard. The virtual, not virtual -- our teachers teaching to virtual and schools in class. I mean, there are so many complications that it just doesn't make sense. Lastly, some students don't have access or have disappeared, right. They don't have access to a system or they have disappeared. Nobody knows where they are. Where do they fall out in this process not being assessed by STAAR?"

Houston ISD told ABC13 Wednesday afternoon: "No technical problems have been reported to our student assessment department today. The only STAAR test occurring may be paper-pencil make-ups from yesterday's schedule. Schools have all week to complete make-ups based on the schedule/need determined at the school level."

The Texas Education Agency released the following response regarding the technical issues on Tuesday. The TEA has not responded yet to ABC13's follow-up requests on Wednesday.

"Earlier today, districts experienced connectivity issues with the STAAR Online Testing Platform (SOTP). We posted updates to the STAAR Assessment Management System dashboard every 10 minutes to keep districts apprised of the progress in resolving the issue. The three STAAR tests affected were Grade 4 writing, Grade 7 writing, and English I. This was the first of five days that students were eligible to take one of these three tests online.

At 10:17 a.m. CDT today, districts were advised if they were having issues that they should stop online testing for the day while the vendor works to resolve these problems. Online testing will resume tomorrow.

We are still analyzing data to determine the number of students affected. Students could have experienced four different scenarios with online testing today:

1) the student could have successfully submitted the test without disruption;

2) the student could have successfully submitted answers but may have noticed unusually slow response times;

3) the student could have been prevented from logging in to begin with; or

4) the student could have begun to answer questions, but at some point was prevented from continuing, and in this instance, answers were saved every thirty seconds so that these students will be able to pick up where they left off.

We understand the frustration this has caused students, parents, teachers, and administrators. What happened today is completely unacceptable. ETS, the testing vendor, experienced problems with their database system, which are in the process of being corrected. The 2021 online administration of STAAR will be ETS's last for the State of Texas. Beginning next school year, Cambium Assessment will be taking over these critical testing functions to ensure that users have a seamless online testing experience moving forward.

All involved in public education in Texas should expect better than what they have experienced today; we are working to ensure that our students do not experience future testing issues."


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