TEA considering penalties for embattled state testing company


The state’s education agency will decide this summer on any penalties against the company that bungled this year’s administration of the Texas standardized tests — including fines and scrapping the multimillion-dollar contract.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told the New Jersey-based testing vendor Educational Testing Service in March that if the company hadn’t fixed a litany of issues by May, he would consider levying financial penalties and reconsider the state’s $280 million contract — $11.9 million of which has already been paid.

The deadline has come and gone, and problems with how the company has administered the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, have continued.

On Friday, the Texas Education Agency learned that ETS had missed the deadline to give some school districts retest scores for fifth- and eighth-graders. School officials need that information to determine which students must attend summer school.

READ: Amid mishaps, STAAR results won’t be used for 5th-, 8th-grader promotion

As a result, Morath dropped the requirement that fifth- and eighth-graders have to pass the STAAR to move on to the next grade, leaving decisions of whether to hold summer school for struggling students and grade promotion up to school districts, the commissioner said in a blog post on the TEA’s website Monday.

“Early last week, we were actively monitoring the situation, and we believed that all results would be returned to schools by Thursday. On Friday, we were given additional information confirming that hadn’t happened,” Morath said. “Therefore we had to take action to provide clarity to districts and parents for the affected students.”

Many Central Texas districts, including Austin, will hold summer school for students as planned, but officials said they appreciate the discretion from the state.

“It is unfortunate that ETS continues to have data integrity issues as we use STAAR data as one of our markers for tracking student progress,” said Edmund Oropez, the Austin district’s chief officer for teaching and learning. “We appreciate TEA’s continued efforts to ensure that students and campuses are not negatively affected.”

This year was the first time that ETS, which also produces the Graduate Record Examination, has administered the statewide assessment. The company won the contract last May after the state dumped Pearson Education, which had been the state’s sole testing vendor for three decades.

School districts started noticing problems with ETS before a majority of Texas students took the STAAR in March. The company had delivered tests to wrong addresses and pre-filled scantrons with incorrect student information, and confidential student data, including Social Security numbers, were sent to the wrong school districts.

A widespread computer glitch March 29 that erased students’ answers to 14,200 tests prompted Morath to release a statement admonishing the company for what he called an unacceptable error.

But problems have continued. Last week, the Eanes school district reported that ETS had lost the answer sheets of third- through eighth-grade students, although the company said it had found the scores.

Houston-area superintendents and the Texas Association of School Administrators have documented dozens of problems with this year’s STAAR administration from 500 schools and districts. They say the state should not use the test scores to rate districts and campuses on their performance this year.

Morath said Monday that those scores will continue to be used in such ratings but said the state “will continue to monitor the situation.” ETS will administer another round of tests in July for high school students who have failed.

“As Executive Director Johnny Veselka stated in TASA’s May 10 letter to Commissioner Morath, assigning accountability ratings based on this school year’s faulty student testing data will not provide a true snapshot of Texas students or schools,” said Amy Francisco of the school administrators association.

“If the testing results are not reliable enough to be used to determine student promotion, they’re not reliable enough to be used to rate Texas schools and districts.”


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