Editorials

It’s been a bad, bad year for STAAR tests

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Fort Worth ISD superintendent Kent Scribner says a number of the district's elementary schools earlier designated as "improvement required" have made significant progress. File photo of student taking statewide STAAR test. Results are used to grade campuses.
Fort Worth ISD superintendent Kent Scribner says a number of the district's elementary schools earlier designated as "improvement required" have made significant progress. File photo of student taking statewide STAAR test. Results are used to grade campuses. Special to the S-T

Texas has had standardized tests for its public school students since 1980. Texans have grudgingly accepted those tests in the name of holding schools accountable for improvement.

But some parents have turned openly hostile in recent years. Foul-ups in the testing system couldn’t come at a worse time.

And foul-ups have been abundant this year, to the point that Education Commissioner Mike Morath threw up his hands Friday and jettisoned some of the testing system’s key components.

Statements Morath issued Friday and Monday show he is struggling to maintain the integrity of the system. There are good reasons to doubt whether he can.

Meanwhile, opponents of standardized testing are circling, ready to devour the carcass if Morath fails.

Late Friday, blaming “ongoing reporting issues with the state’s testing vendor,” Educational Testing Service, Morath waived a requirement that students in grades five and eight pass the reading and math portions of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, tests.

With those scores not yet available, Morath told educators they could ignore the requirement and make student-by-student decisions on specialized instruction and promotions to the next grade.

For at least the second time since the tests were administered this spring, Morath apologized for problems with ETS and stated his intention to “hold the vendor … accountable.”

This is the first year for ETS to handle the testing program under a $280 million contract. There are good reasons to doubt whether there should be a second.

Morath’s predicament is not easily cured. “At present,” he has said, he will continue to hold the rest of the testing system in place and the campus and school district accountability system that is tied to it.

But having acknowledged a fatal flaw in one part of a highly integrated system, he’ll be hard-pressed to justify faith in the rest of it on such crucial matters as campus and school district ratings.

Even Morath seems uncertain. On Monday, he promised to “continue to monitor the situation, and we will provide any additional updates regarding accountability.”

Late scores are far from the only complaint about ETS.

A computer glitch wiped out answers on 14,220 tests. The Lewisville district questioned the accuracy of high school end-of-course exam scores. Test booklets were delivered to wrong locations and scores to the wrong districts.

For this year, at least, STAAR is a mess.

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