A Quarter of a Million Wasted on STAR Testing


Why would Dr. Wardynski continue paying (with the limited funds that the district has) for something that he could get for free?

I thought we hired him for his financial acumen. (Of course, he’s often proven that he’s willing to pay a premium for things that he wants. He’s done it with Teach for America and with The Pinnacle Schools.) He’s always willing to spend money on his pet projects or to return some money to Eli Broad, but our teachers’ salaries are after two years still frozen. Our starting teachers still make the state minimum.

Since Huntsville City Schools began using STAR testing to evaluate teachers in September 2011, Dr. Wardynski and the Board of Education have paid Renaissance Learning, Inc. (the owners of STAR Enterprise testing) $541,011.50 for formative testing software that the Alabama State Board of Education will provide to our district for free.

On July 31, 2012, Dr. Sherrill W. Parris sent a memo to every City and County Superintendent in the state telling them that the state was offering them “unlimited free access to unprecedented test management solutions” to help in “assessing students on relevant content in Alabama’s College- and Career-Ready Standards in Kindergarten through Grade 12.” (You can read the memo from Dr. Parris yourself here.)

So since July 31, 2012, we’ve paid Renaissance Learning $244,773.59 for access to the STAR Enterprise test when the state was providing a similar formative testing system for free.

Which raises the most important question of all: Why?

Dr. Wardynski has said that “we do STAR. We like it best.” He’s made this claim knowing that there are other options like GlobalScholar and also knowing that GlobalScholar is free.

So why?

Why would our district spend a quarter of a million dollars on something that the state would have given them for free?

Through what process did Wardynski evaluate STAR Enterprise to determine that the district “likes it best?”

Why, exactly, does he “like it best?”

Could it be that he likes it best because he controls it? He controls the way it’s administered. He controls to whom it is administered. He controls what data points will be used for evaluations.

And he controls the scores themselves.

You see, the STAR Enterprise test is currently being used in our district to evaluate teachers rather than students. He is picking and choosing data to reward some teachers, principal and schools and to punish others. He’s used the data to require that some principals force their teachers to participate in additional professional development. And he’s using the data to terminate others. As he claimed to The Huntsville Times 47 teachers were not renewed based on “principal recommendations, student growth data, classroom observations, teacher attendance, student discipline and, for teachers in Grades 3 through 12, surveys completed by the students themselves.” (Yes, those evaluations that 8 and 9 year olds completed despite the fact that many of the questions made no sense to them, those evaluations that were wide open to the general public, were used to determine if 47 teachers were renewed or not.)

Since we’re using STAR rather than GlobalScholar, Wardynski has complete control over how the data is used, and what the data shows without any oversight from the Alabama State Board of Education. If he used GlobalScholar, the data would be subject to their review.

Then he might not be able to so easily use one single data point to claim that a teacher hasn’t shown growth. Then he might not be able to easily alter or order others to alter their data to “look better.”

If he used the state’s free test, he loses control.

And he can’t have that.

Even if it costs him a quarter of a million dollars of someone else’s money.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. Seems like it was just a few months ago that HCS was woefully in the red financially. Didn’t even have enough money to cover the emergency fund mandated by the state. Yet, now just a few months later, all debts are paid, emergency fund fully vetted, multiple new buidlings are being planned, and HCS has spent a quarter mil on a testing product. I have one question:

    Where is the money coming from?

    1. “Smoke and mirrors.”

      There’s a reason why none of the three board members coming up for reelection in 2014 are planning to run again.

      1. “There’s a reason why none of the three board members coming up for reelection in 2014 are planning to run again.”

        They have done their damage now they can slink on off into the sunset….

  2. I shared on Facebook the link to your opinion with the following comments from me:

    Someone needs to investigate why the Huntsville City School System
    utilizes STAR testing by the Renaissance Company (excellent)
    to evaluate the teachers who are forced to use the
    Pearson Education Company products (deplorable)
    for instruction.

    If the system used Renaissance Learning Company Accelerated Math correctly
    and applied the STAR testing correctly to determine students needs,
    our system could be the best in the nation.

    Here is a link to Accelerated Math Live by Renaissance Learning.

  3. A nit…but to make a point. Instead of

    “…formative testing software that the Alabama State Board of Education will provide to our district for free.”,

    I think a better statement would be

    “…formative testing software that the Alabama State Board of Education will provide to our district for no additional charge.”

    The software that the State Board of Education provides would have obviously cost something to produce or procure, which my tax dollars went to pay for. Now, because HCS decided to use something else, I’m paying twice! Because the district provides no justification for how they make their decisions, I have no idea which software is better. Certainly however, paying for two software systems is unbelievably wasteful.

    1. Fair enough.

      Except that I’m not sure what deal the state worked out for the software they’re offering districts. I don’t know where they display their contracts.

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