Computer error on 14,220 STAAR tests can’t stand


Texas Education Commisioner Mike Morath is a former member of the Dallas school board.
Texas Education Commisioner Mike Morath is a former member of the Dallas school board. Dallas Morning News

Computer problems that erased answers on 14,220 standardized tests taken by Texas public school students last week are a good reason to be upset, even very angry.

They may well be ample reason to cancel the state’s $280 million testing contract with New Jersey-based Educational Testing Service and hold the company financially responsible for its mistake.

As Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said March 29, the day the problems occurred: “The technical issues experienced today during the online administration of STAAR are simply unacceptable. Such issues undermine the hard work of our teachers and students. Kids in the classroom should never suffer from mistakes made by adults.”

Still, none of this provides anything close to good reason to dump the current testing system, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, commonly known as STAAR.

Many students, parents and educators have objected to annual standardized testing in Texas public schools. Those objections have reached a high point in recent years, to the point that the Legislature has the role of testing.

The grumbling after the March 29 computer problems has included comments like “Why don’t we just cancel the whole thing?”

The reason is that these annual assessments serve a vital purpose.

We must hold our public schools accountable for helping all students learn. Administering tests that are closely tied to the required state curriculum is simply the best way we have found to measure results and spot schools where student achievement falls short of expectations.

There is room to say the testing system is flawed because it takes too much time away from teaching the curriculum itself, that schools spend too much time teaching students how to take tests and drilling them over and over on test content.

Those complaints have been voiced since Texas began testing three decades ago. If they’re true, it means we’re doing testing wrong, not that we shouldn’t be testing.

Without a strict accountability system, it’s too easy for schools to let hard-to-teach kids slip through the cracks. Poor kids, minority kids, disabled kids suffer.

We have to go to great lengths to prevent that.

Some 2.3 million Texas students took STAAR tests last week, most of them the “old-fashioned way,” on paper. The 14,220 online tests whose answers were lost represent less than 1 percent of that total.

But it’s far too many. Too much is at stake to allow it.