UPDATED, 7:35 p.m. — Server errors at the company charged with administering Indiana’s online ISTEP+ exams ground testing to a halt for a second straight day, prompting state superintendent Glenda Ritz to ask districts Tuesday to stop administering the exams.
Officials at the Indiana Department of Education had announced earlier Tuesday they would give schools three extra days to test students after similar problems bumped nearly 30,000 students out of their exams on Monday.
By late Tuesday, officials had given the go-ahead for schools to resume testing on Wednesday. But they asked schools to cut their testing load in half, promising in a statement to “work with local schools to ensure that they have the time they need to fairly administer the test.”
“I am greatly disappointed to learn that Indiana schools had their ISTEP+ testing interrupted,” state superintendent Glenda Ritz said in an earlier statement. “Like all Hoosier parents, students and teachers, I find these interruptions frustrating and unacceptable.”
As of this update, the online ISTEP+ status page from testing company CTB/McGraw Hill shows a similar “red flag” message to the one that stopped assessments on Monday.
“CTB has received an increased incidence of interruptions,” an alert posted on the site read at 11:30 a.m. Eastern. “Our staff is working to make further system adjustments to make the system available as soon as possible. Please suspend testing until 12:30 EDT.”
Reports from Twitter confirm the problems:
CTB call center has message that all reps are currently busy.#ISTEPGATE2014
— Jeff Butts (@MSDWayneSupt) April 30, 2013
Here we go again. #ISTEP online just crashed.
— Scott Gardner CMS (@MrGardnerCMS) April 30, 2013
Connectivity issues again with #ISTEP at MSD of Washington.
— Seth Hamilton (@edtechseth) April 30, 2013
We’ve lost four sites now in #ISTEP at Perry.Please wait popping up everywhere.
— Matthew Willey (@imstriker) April 30, 2013
— Jim Hunt (@nwnsm) April 30, 2013
UPDATE, 11:40 a.m.: The Indianapolis Public Schools issued this correction via Twitter. An earlier version of this post included a Tweet from IPS saying they were suspending testing — they’re not:
Correction: We are NOT suspending #ISTEP testing, we are just experiencing difficulties.
— IPS (@IPSSchools) April 30, 2013
The Overnight Modifications
According to a memo state officials distributed to schools Tuesday morning, technicians at CTB/McGraw Hill added memory to the testing company’s servers last night and completed tests overnight to check whether the modifications were helping.
“CTB and the IDOE,” wrote Michelle Walker, who directs the state’s Office of Assessment, “will review data for all students that experienced interruptions to online testing, and… as always, for specific situations, schools should document concerns and issues that occur during testing and contact the IDOE for guidance.”
What happened Monday? Walker expounds:
Yesterday morning between 8:00-9:00 a.m. Eastern, CTB’s monitoring showed an issue (testing disruptions) with the ISTEP+ online servers that caused them to stop accepting network traffic for a brief period of time. The current investigation points to an issue with a memory configuration on the ISTEP+ servers at CTB that caused the application to start swapping pages to disc instead of using physical memory. This issue continued intermittently throughout the day.
“There is a high degree of confidence,” Walker adds, “that the actions CTB has taken overnight have addressed the server problems that occurred on Monday.”
Killion: Test Results Shouldn’t Be Valid
UPDATE, 1:45 p.m.: West Lafayette Community Schools superintendent Rocky Killion tells StateImpact:
This is my opinion — I believe that the test should be invalid. I believe that unless everybody has a similar opportunity to be measured… an apples-to-apples environment the environment has a great deal to do with how students do. So if you have students who are being interrupted time and time again, and students who aren’t being interrupted, I believe that’s a validity issue with regards to making accurate comparisons not only across grade levels but across school districts in the state…
We’ve had the same issues with online testing for the last few years. I think there are better ways to measure student performance and instructional activities going on in the schools rather than using this online, pick-a-bubble answer. This is not helping our students, this is not helping our school systems become better, or educators. We’re only creating better test-takers.
UPDATE, 2:30 p.m.: “This is both disappointing and frustrating for schools that are scheduling these tests,” says IDOE spokesperson Daniel Altman, “it’s disappointing and frustrating for students taking for these tests, and it’s the same for parents who are obviously helping to get their children ready for these tests. That is, well, I think that is a natural reaction to where we are right now.”
I’ve reached out to CTB and will post any response I get from them if and when they get in touch.
UPDATE, 4:00 p.m.: Still awaiting comment from testing company CTB/McGraw Hill.
After the second day of ISTEP testing problems created by McGraw Hill, the ISTEP corporate vendor, ISTA demands assurances that this fire/misfire, fire/misfire, fire/misfire testing scenario be addressed and fixed immediately. Under recent changes in state law, ISTEP no longer represents just student proficiency at a given point in time, but now drives school grades, individual teacher evaluations and, in a significant way, a teacher’s compensation…
The responsible party for these glitches – McGraw Hill, a corporation that makes millions of dollars from this state contract – needs to let Hoosiers know why the requisite pre-administration stress testing did not occur according to proper protocol. McGraw has a history of having problems administering ISTEP, but this year the problem appears to be much more significant. What is McGraw Hill doing in response to this very serious situation?
UPDATE, 7:35 p.m.: New statement from the DOE:
Based upon assurances made by CTB McGraw Hill, the Indiana Department of Education is opening ISTEP+ testing tomorrow morning, Wednesday, May 1. In order to prevent further issues, the DOE is asking schools to decrease their daily test load to 50% 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. More detailed information will be released tomorrow.
This post may be updated.