News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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May 1, 2013

State to limit ISTEP+ testing

DOE wants schools to cut test load after two days of problems

TERRE HAUTE — Required standardized tests for Indiana students will resume today after two days of computer glitches, but state officials asked schools to cut their normal test loads by half to avoid more problems.

The Indiana Department of Education issued a statement Tuesday evening saying the decision to resume the ISTEP+ exams was “based upon assurances made by CTB/McGraw Hill,” the state’s test vendor.

“In order to prevent further issues, the DOE is asking schools to decrease their daily test load to 50 percent of their normal levels until further notice. The DOE will work with local schools to ensure that they have the time they need to fairly administer the test,” the statement says.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz ordered testing halted after schools in several cities, including Terre Haute, encountered problems with the computerized, online portion of the test. John Newport, curriculum coordinator of assessment for the Vigo County School Corp., said he started receiving phone calls from area schools Tuesday morning reporting online connection problems during the multiple choice portion of the test. It was soon apparent the problem was with the vendor of the test, CTB/McGraw-Hill, an Illinois-based educational publishing company, he said.

The state officially suspended testing later Tuesday.

“Right before [Ritz] made that call [to suspend testing], we started making that call for our facilities as well,” Newport said. A little more than 7,000 Vigo County students in grades 3 to 8 have been affected by the technical problems, he said. This is the second day in a row state officials have suspended testing because of technical problems, leading some educators to worry that students aren't getting a fair shake.

“We are concerned for our students that the testing has not been optimal,” said Karen Goeller, deputy superintendent of Vigo County schools. “If you have a student who’s sitting there taking the test, he’s right in the middle of a reading passage and he’s kicked off [line], then he has to wait three or four minutes and it interrupts his train of thought.”

Meanwhile, Ritz called the situation “unacceptable” and pledged the Department of Education will work with schools to ensure they have time to administer the test once the problems are corrected.

In response to this year’s problems, the state has extended the ISTEP testing window for an additional three days, giving Vigo County schools some much-needed breathing space to complete any interrupted testing from Monday and Tuesday and get all students caught up before resuming regular testing Thursday, Newport said.

“We’ll start fresh on Thursday,” he said. “We want to take a step back and make sure this is going to run smoothly before we get too far into it.”

CTB/McGraw-Hill is expected to update educators at 6 a.m. eastern time today about the current situation. On Tuesday morning, the company informed schools that steps had been taken to address the problems that emerged on Monday, Newport said.

This is the third straight year technical problems have been reported with the ISTEP. In light of this year’s glitches, the Indiana teachers union issued a statement Tuesday saying it wanted proof from state officials that problems with the test won’t hurt teachers. The union said recent changes in state law have tied ISTEP results to school ratings, individual teacher evaluations and teachers’ pay.

Because of past technical problems associated with the test, Vigo County schools sought state permission to allow a third of its students to continue to take the multiple choice section of the test with paper and pencil this year, Newport said. That request was denied, he said.

Carol Stream, Ill.-based McGraw-Hill administers the exam under a four-year, $95 million contract with the Indiana Department of Education. The contract runs through June 2014.

The contract requires McGraw-Hill to provide “uninterrupted” computer availability every school day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the two weeks prior to each testing window, as well as for the entire testing window.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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