New safeguards in place to ensure flawless STAAR testing this year

By Cathy Tatom - Investigative Producer

HOUSTON - The vast majority of Texas students take STAAR assessment tests with paper and pencil, but some need to take STAAR tests online using a computer.

For many students using that method last spring, things did not go well.

This interactive map shows schools across our area where students faced unexpected difficulties:

During both the April and May 2018 testing days, students across the state either could not log in or got bounced out of tests and had to start over.

Jalin Weidner was among 100,455 taking online versions of STAAR tests.

"It was not letting me focus and get back on track," Jalin said. "It made me feel frustrated. It was just very unsettling."

Educational Testing Service, more commonly known as ETS, has the current contract with the Texas Education agency to administer STAAR tests.

John Oswald of ETS blames human error for last spring's problems. He told Channel 2 Investigates one problem was when a staffer violated ETS company policy by running a system test program while student testing was in progress.

He said that employee is no longer with his company. Oswald said the issue in May happened because ETS did not have the proper balance of servers to handle the number of students taking tests across the state. Those issues prompted a $100,000 fine, the maximum allowed under ETS's contract with TEA.

Oswald told Channel 2 Investigates that new safeguards are in place so the same problems will not crop up again this year.

He also said no company can guarantee new issues won't pop up, so no company can guarantee every test administration will be 100 percent flawless.

Later this year, TEA will put out the specs for the next STAAR testing contract. Oswald said ETS will likely bid on it.

To help students prepare for this year's STAAR tests, TEA has created optional online interim assessments available at no cost to school districts and charter schools.

The interim tests can be given twice during the school year. The tests look and feel like the real thing, but students can take them without the pressure they may feel during the actual tests. The interim assessments will generate reports that indicate a student's statistical probability of achieving "Approaches," "Meets" or "Masters" grade level expectations on STAAR tests.

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