The STAAR test could soon be administered to Texas public school students online, according to a new report.
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 Texas A&M University College of Education and Human Development.
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 2022-23 school year.
The TEA contracted researchers in the Education Research Center (ERC) to conduct a study assessing the readiness of the state’s school districts and campuses to make the move. The study included a benchmarking of other states’ assessment programs, as well as an examination of the condition of the state’s infrastructure to support online testing.
Results from the study were included in a comprehensive report released Jan. 4.
A nationwide review showed strong trends toward online testing with 70 percent of states using 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 Kim Wright, assistant research scientist in the ERC.
The move to online testing 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 costs, increased test security and faster turnaround of assessment results made the transition worthwhile.
Experts also provided advice for Texas, recommending setting 100 percent compliance as the goal while acknowledging that minor obstacles may occur.
To determine statewide readiness, researchers sent surveys to each school district in Texas 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 percent 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,” Wright sight.
Also mentioned were concerns about cost increases, lack of resources and training, and security and oversight. However, respondents also provided suggestions and potential solutions to many of the problems.
“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 Jacqueline Stillisano, lecturer in the ERC.
Researchers noted enthusiasm and anticipation from educators at all levels. Many said they are ready for the push to online assessments.
“They recognized that technology is the future,” Stillisano said. “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.”
They also pointed to the benefits of faster 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:
- Invest in internet connectivity, technological services and personnel; and
- Encourage and strengthen partnerships across all stakeholder groups to ensure that educators, students and parents are familiar and comfortable with online testing.
TEA also requests in the report that lawmakers consider expanding the use of a fund for textbooks and other educational materials for internet connectivity and training, and 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 a timeline and scope during the legislative session beginning Jan. 11.