Penalties for the vendor behind this year's botched state student achievement tests total $1.4 million and Texas education officials say the penalties are likely to rise even further for the screw-ups with this year's STAAR exams – computer glitches, missing materials, disappearing answers, lost test results, student information leaked sent to the wrong school districts.
It's not like ETS, the New Jersey testing company, is a rookie in this business – Educational Testing Service administers the GRE but their first year managing the statewide STAAR tests has been, by all accounts, a fiasco. More than a few are yearning for the good ol' days, when test answers didn't disappear.
Kristi Hassett, a board member of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA), says the state had a regular contract renewal and ETS won the contract.
"I believe the problems really started," she says, "because ETS wasn't prepared for the state of Texas. It's such a massive testing endeavor and Pearson and the state had created this system from scratch when Pearson got the original contract."
Pearson created the original data files, regulations and processes, she says, and ETS didn't have the time and staff to figure out the working system before this year's tests.
"We definitely were thinking it was a short transition from Pearson to ETS," she says, "and evidently it has caused multiple problems."
Hassett says there wasn't confirmation that the two entities were able to transfer information successfully before testing started. Pearson had worked with the state for three decades and Hassett says the stakes are too high to leave it up to chance.
"I'm not sure that it's necessarily just a vendor issue," she says. "...I think it's a problem with the system in and of itself."
The Texas Education Agency has ultimate responsibility, Hassett says, but ETS must make sure they're communicating properly with the state. "We would ask that the state have a moratorium on testing this year," Hassett says, "...just like they did the very first year that STAAR was actually implemented in 2012."
For its part, ETS – the company at the center of STAAR testing this year – responded to our request for an interview with a statement that, in part, reads: "ETS accepts responsibility for issues arising during this transition year... We appreciate the patience and cooperation of districts ... we are committed to working with the Texas Education Agency to ensure smoother administrations in the future."
Post by Hannah McBride.