Preparing for the state’s move to online STAAR testing
The state of Texas is close to having the infrastructure necessary to administer all State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests electronically by 2022-23. The findings come from a report developed, in part, by researchers in the Education Research Center in the College of Education and Human Development.
In 2019, during the 86th Legislature, lawmakers passed House Bill 3906 requiring the Texas Education Agency to investigate and develop a transition plan to administer STAAR tests electronically by the 2022-2023 school year.
The TEA contracted researchers in the ERC to conduct a study assessing the readiness of the state’s school districts and campuses to make the move. The study includes a benchmarking of other states’ assessment programs, as well as an examination of the condition of the state’s infrastructure to support online testing.
The study was comprised of four major tasks:
- A statewide needs assessment survey completed by all Texas public school districts and campuses.
- Case studies with individual districts and campuses, examining their previous experiences with, and readiness for, online state testing.
- A benchmarking study of other states’ assessment programs and transitions to online testing, including related challenges and lessons learned.
- An operational definition of “100% electronic testing” for the state of Texas, as well as a financial model, estimating and illustrating the cost of achieving needed capacity at campus, district and state levels.
Results from the study were included in a comprehensive report released January 4.
Benchmark of Other States
A nationwide review showed strong trends toward online testing with 70% of states using the online testing for primary state assessments.
Of those states, researchers chose California, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia for the study. They conducted interviews with assessment officials and school districts to determine their experiences in making the switch to online.
“What we learned from other states’ transitions is that a successful transition requires broad support and buy-in from district and campus leaders and patience from stakeholders, like teachers, students and families,” said Dr. Kim Wright, assistant research scientist in the ERC.
The move to online was not always a smooth transition for other states. They encountered technical problems, resistance from educators and district leaders and a lack of funding.
State assessment experts did, however, agree that the potential benefits of decreased yearly cost, increased test security and faster turnaround of assessment results made the transition worthwhile.
State assessment experts also provided advice for Texas, recommending setting 100% compliance as the goal and then remaining firm in that determination, while acknowledging that minor obstacles may occur.
Statewide Surveys and Interviews
To determine statewide readiness, researchers sent surveys to each school district in Texas. These surveys were designed to show perceptions in hardware; network infrastructure; personnel, staffing and training; and experiences with online testing.
Researchers also conducted interviews with administrators and teachers from districts across the state.
The perceived challenges for moving to 100% online for the STAAR test were similar in both instances.
“One of the key challenges noted by the survey respondents was the provision for backups in the case of system failure, if the system were to go down or the testing program were to malfunction,” said Wright.
Also mentioned were concerns about cost increases, lack of resources and training, and security and oversight for the online test. However, they also provided suggestions and potential solutions to many of the problems presented.
“We realized as we analyzed the data that the suggestions they made to us were rooted in their genuine desire to do what was best for all students,” said Dr. Jacqueline Stillisano, lecturer in the ERC. “Their suggestions were also rooted in the hope that support and resources provided to them during the transition would help to ensure success for the students and their families in the transition.”
Researchers did note a lot of enthusiasm and anticipation from educators at all levels. Many say they are ready for the push to online assessments.
“They recognized that technology is the future. This is not an option. We’re moving to a really technology-heavy future. As one person expressed in the studies, we need to prepare our students for the future,” said Stillisano.
They also pointed to the benefits of quicker results, accommodation support for students, decreased logistical concerns and a decrease in the opportunity for testing irregularities.
According to the report, two key steps are necessary for the state to be fully ready to move the STAAR test online: a) invest in internet connectivity, technological services and personnel and b) encourage and strengthen partnerships across all stakeholder groups to ensure that educators, students and parents are familiar and comfortable with online testing.
Included in the report is also a request from the TEA for lawmakers to consider two possible tools to ease the final transition process: a) consider expanding the authorized use of a fund for textbooks and other educational materials for internet connectivity and training, and b) consider the establishment of a matching grant fund to help districts with one-time network infrastructure funds.
The final report was submitted to state lawmakers in December. They will vote on the timeline and scope during the legislative session beginning January 11.
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