State to fine company, give students reprieve after STAAR glitches


Texas students experienced two disruptions in April and May while taking the online STAAR.

The state announced Thursday that affected students won’t be penalized for the disruptions.

The company that administers the STAAR will be fined $100,000.

Texas fifth- and eighth-graders affected by two widespread online testing disruptions in as many months won’t have to pass the state standardized test this year to move on to the next grade, the Texas Education Agency announced Thursday.

In addition to dropping the testing requirement, the agency will levy $100,000 in penalties on New Jersey-based Educational Testing Service, which administers the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, for the testing problems.

“As we continue to build upon our online platform to provide greater support to students, we cannot allow technical disruptions during testing,” Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a news release. “We are committed to providing a positive assessment experience for our districts and students.”

On April 10, 41,702 students across the state were kicked off the online STAAR for 20 minutes due to a server crashing. Some districts reported being affected for up to three hours.

Last week, 29,307 students experienced a slowed connection for about 90 minutes while they were taking the online STAAR.

As much as 27 percent of students affected by the disruptions in both instances were in special education.

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Fifth- and eighth-grade students who experienced the disruptions will not have to pass the STAAR this year to move on to the next grade, although the tests will still be scored and results shared with parents, according to the education agency. But fifth- and eighth-graders who were not affected still will have to pass the test for grade promotion.

The results of the tests that experienced the disruptions also will not count against a school district’s and campus’s rating from the state, which will be released this summer.

Educational Testing Service spokesman Tom Ewing said the recent connectivity issues in Texas were due to “human error” and not caused by cyberattacks, which have occurred with standardized tests in other states this year.

“ETS takes full responsibility for the recent connectivity issues with the online STAAR testing program and apologizes for the inconvenience to students, teachers and district officials. We understand the importance of these assessments and strive to make the experience as stress-free as possible,” Ewing said in a statement.

Two years ago, the TEA fined the company $21 million after a widespread computer glitch had erased students’ answers to 14,200 tests. The company had to pay $5.7 million in damages as well as $15 million to make changes by the end of last year, such as redesigning the shipping processes, providing districts with the ability to monitor online tests in real time, creating safeguards to prevent precoding errors and modifying reporting systems to prioritize graduating seniors.

The state in January increased the value of its four-year contract with Educational Testing Service from $305 million to $327 million to expand services. The contract expires Aug. 31, 2019. The education agency announced Thursday it plans to rebid the STAAR contract and “will prioritize and focus on the online testing experience and functionality of the assessment.”

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