The Texas Education Agency announced that it is fining ETS $20.7 million. ETS failed to return results on time from this spring’s administration of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). This was the first year ETS administered and scored the STAAR, after taking the four-year $280 million contract away from Pearson.
The state also fined Pearson – who retained a small contract to administer tests to some subgroups of students – $120,000. That fine was for some late deliveries and a one-day service disruption.
The ETS fine consists of $5.7 million in liquidated damages and an additional $15 million. The money will fund the development of an action plan to address problems encountered, such as online testing system enrollment, precoding, scoring and reporting. Schools reported problems ranging from tests being shipped to wrong addresses to problems with online testing that caused student answers to be lost and a variety of scoring problems. The fine is largely related to late score reporting.
In Texas the STAAR is tied to grade advancement for 5th and 8th graders. Fifth graders need to pass the STAAR to advance to middle school and 8th graders to advance to high school. Score were coming in too late and inconsistently to allow students to know if they needed to plan for retesting or register for summer school. As a result, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath ended up waiving the grade advancement requirements for 5th and 8th graders.
Discard All Results?
STAAR scores also factor into school accountability decisions. District leaders wanted STAAR scores to be totally discounted for those purposes. Morath allowed exams affected by the lost answers computer glitch (about 14,000 students were affected) from school accountability ratings. But he indicated that the problems were not widespread enough to discard all the 2015-2016 results.
ETS reports that it spent $20 million providing support to schools across the state as they attempted to resolve the various testing issues. The company will absorb those costs rather than charge them against the statewide contract. ETS is no novice in the arena of large-scale test administration.
But even in a state with relatively solid leadership at the state agency level, there is tremendous variability from district to district in terms of computer equipment, bandwidth and the technical sophistication of the IT support staff. Statewide administration of tests is always a challenge. Adding widespread online testing to the mix has further complicated things. I don’t envy the major test vendors as they struggle with the on-the-ground reality of all this. Despite a few major meltdowns, the spring testing season was fairly smooth. That’s an accomplishment.