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April 24, 2014

New test glitches worry some Indiana schools

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Some Indiana school administrators say they’re worried about a rerun of last year’s computer troubles with online standardized tests as students have faced disruptions this week while taking practice tests.

Students in the Zionsville Community Schools near Indianapolis experienced computers freezing up Monday and Tuesday, which put educators on edge ahead of the annual ISTEP testing period that starts Monday, said Patti Bostwick, the district’s chief technology officer.

“I am hoping that we don’t have another repeat of last year. Before last year, we rarely had an issue. I am hoping for the best but planning for the worst. I really, really hope this goes better starting Monday,” she told The Indianapolis Star.

A report found about 80,000 Indiana students in third through eighth grade had ISTEP exams interrupted last spring when server glitches from contractor CTB/McGraw Hill kicked them offline. That was during the first year students moved from pencil and paper exams to online tests under the Indiana Department of Education’s four-year, $95 million contract with CTB/McGraw Hill.

This week’s Indiana problems are similar to those that led Oklahoma on Monday to suspend its online standardized test, also administered by CTB/McGraw-Hill. The testing has since resumed.

The Indiana Department of Education said fewer than 10 percent of more than 300 ISTEP calls through Wednesday this week have been related to computer difficulties.

Agency spokesman Daniel Altman said it had staffers checking on the Oklahoma problems and working with CTB/McGraw-Hill to ensure the ISTEP exams can start next week as scheduled.

“Our assessment team is working with local schools to ensure that their networks are ready for testing and CTB has engineers available for on-site support,” he said.

CTB/McGraw-Hill spokesman Brian Belardi today blamed this week’s Indiana troubles on additional system security measures it had implemented.

The company’s staff will be working with the state Education Department and schools across the state through the weekend to resolve any issues, he said. The company is confident heading into next week with improvements made since last year’s glitches, Belardi told The Associated Press.

“We’ve taken a lot of steps, working with the state, working with the districts across the state, to improve the online testing experience,” he said. “We’ve increased the capacity of our infrastructure; we’ve added more servers and memory. We’ve done stress testing with double the expected amount of students taking the test at any one time.”

CTB representatives on Wednesday visited the Wayne Township Schools district on the west side of Indianapolis to check into technical problems its students encountered Monday and Tuesday, district spokeswoman Mary Lang said.

“We are really grateful for what CTB and IDOE have done to respond to it,” Lang said. “I know they are working on it, and we are really hoping they can fix it.”

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