STAAR Testing Glitch Erased Untold Number of Students' Test Answers

As if standardized testing weren't already an anxiety-inducing experience for nervous test takers, on Tuesday, some students in several Texas school districts took a break from online testing to eat lunch, only to return to find that all their answers had disappeared. Yeah, this was the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness test, the one students not only spent months preparing for but that, in many cases, they are required to pass in order to go on to the next grade level and graduate high school.

So understandably, this computer glitch caused a ruckus among the affected districts, including Houston Independent School District, where frustrated kids were left worrying that they had either screwed up their shot at moving on to junior high or would have to redo everything.

Yesterday, however, HISD told the Houston Press that it will not be requiring the students who lost their answers to retake the test and won't be penalizing any kids who choose not to. Instead, a Grade Placement Committee will review those students' files and grades and make the call on whether or not they are ready to go on to the next level. (That is, unless the Texas Education Agency tells HISD that it can't do that and gives other instructions, an HISD spokesperson told us.) HISD will not be able to know how many students lost their work until the end of the week, though many of them may be special education or ESL students since their tests were exclusively offered online. (Many other kids simply used the good old-fashioned paper and pencil.)

According to TEA, it advised school districts yesterday to put the STAAR testing on hold until the New Jersey-based company that developed the online test, Educational Testing Services, fixed the glitch, which it did. ETS, through TEA, said it will be able to recover some students' answers, but not all of them; it's unclear for now how many kids will be affected.

Rob D'Amico, a spokesperson for the state teachers' union, Texas AFT, said that this is simply yet another example of why high-stakes, make-it-or-break-it standardized testing is problematic for kids. “This is a test that they've prepared extensively for, and the environment itself can be distressing,” he said. “So any kind of glitch like this is certainly not good — but there are so many other problems with the STAAR test that this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

The main issue, he said, is how the tests force teachers and administrators to overemphasize benchmarking. The fact that how well kids do on the tests can also be used to evaluate teacher performance places an unfair burden on the teacher, D'Amico said, which may force the teacher to focus more on making sure kids pass this test rather than on critical thinking or creativity.

“Any time we're talking about situations where you need to prepare for kids to be throwing up on the day of the STAAR test, you realize that this isn't something that's healthy for inspiring the love of learning.”
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn