Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Educators On-Edge, Frustrated As Limited ISTEP+ Testing Resumes Wednesday

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

A teacher helps a student use a laptop in a classroom during a lesson.

Donna Sink says her 9-year-old son saw what was a common sight in Indiana schools during online ISTEP+ testing Monday and Tuesday:

The dreaded “globe screen.”

“Suddenly there was an image on everyone’s screen of a computer with a line connecting it to the globe,” Sink wrote on our Facebook page, “which I assume means connection to server/internet lost… They had to restart all the computers, but after several tries the principal told them they’d have to stop and do the test another time.”

As Indiana schools enter their third day of testing, state education officials hope they’ve seen the last of the ‘Please Wait’ screens. They’ve given the go-ahead for testing to resume Wednesday, but are asking schools to cut their testing loads in half, a request that could extend ISTEP+ testing through the month of May.

But the directive also deepens the logistical challenge for local educators in setting up online exams — we reported on that on Monday — with many districts’ school years coming to a close and other students needing to take exams other than ISTEP+.

“Small-school districts like mine (jr-sr. high school) now have scheduling conflicts with ECA,” teacher Jolie Lindley tweeted last night, referring to the End of Course Assessments most students take in their freshman or sophomore years.

Testing company CTB/McGraw Hill distributed a memo to schools late Tuesday apologizing for the errors. Although there were issues with online ISTEP+ testing the company provided in 2010 and 2011, those problems affected fewer than the roughly 30,000 students who were kicked off of online tests on Monday.

“We regret the impact on Indiana schools and students and are making changes to correct the situation,” the statement reads:

Prior to the start of this year’s testing, CTB conducted performance and load testing on our systems to simulate live school assessment scenarios. However, our simulations did not fully anticipate the patterns of live student testing, and as a result, our system configuration experienced service interruptions that impacted the testing process. We have adjusted the system settings and increased hardware to improve performance, and we are working with the Indiana Department of Education to consider test schedule changes to allow adequate time for the assessments.

While students affected by the interruption will be able to resume testing where they left off and no data has been lost, we understand just how disruptive and frustrating these interruptions have been.

But State Board of Education member Mike Pettibone says some students had to start over with new questions when they were let back into their assessments. On Twitter, MSD Wayne Township superintendent Jeff Butts writes:

On Monday, issues began to surface on a wide scale around 10 a.m. Eastern. On Tuesday, issues began to surface around 11 a.m. Eastern. Knock on wood, hold your breath… educators, what are you seeing in your buildings today? As always, get in touch by e-mailon Twitter, or in the comments section below.


  • Karynb9

    One request for the media — at the end of the day, if there are no technology problems, can we NOT see headlines about the “successful day” of testing we had? Only 50% of students who may have been scheduled to test (possibly two days later than they were first scheduled) are ABLE to test today. Even if those kids don’t have technology problems, the day was far from a “success.” The system is still apparently being held together with duct tape and baling wire.

    Of course, in a state so focused on the “target growth rate” of students, the fact that CTB only messed up half as many testing plans today as they did Monday and Tuesday probably DOES make them a “huge success”…

  • Sandra Hawk

    This is crazy. The technology to do this kind of testing is not in place. It has to be scrambled together before testing can begin. McGraw-Hill’s server networks don’t ordinarlily handle this volume of traffic, so it’s a series of major technology upgrades and changes for them, and most of the schools don’t have computers in place at all times that can accomodate the numbers of children that need to test, so it’s a logistical nightmare for them too.
    As long as this is the case. It’s a potential disaster in the making.
    If we had schools where each student had a computer, and where their textbooks were digital and accessed through the internet — then we might be in a position where a plan to do IStep testing online with that publisher made sense. But this is not the world we live in at the moment. Until it is — we need much, much better failsafe plans, because there is no way to really prevent this kind of stuff from happening.
    Also — I expect as resistence to high-stakes testing heats up — Testing companies may well become targets for hackers who intend to disrupt the entire testing process on purpose. So if we want testing to go smoothly we will always need back-up testing plans when we’re administering high stakes tests.

    • Frustrated educator

      Their pre-test situation did not account for every school and every student to start first thing in the morning. They averaged # of hours available over the testing window with the # of students. This shows just how little they understand testing.

      • Sandra Hawk

        Amazing! It seems to me that anyone with half a brain would know that every testing seat would be full this morning, and
        on most mornings. Most schools don’t have the computers to let testing seats sit empty. So all possible ports will be logged on most of the time. Plus administrators will probably be trying to pull reports during this time too.

      • Karynb9

        You also have a lot of schools that try to be finished with testing as early in the day as possible, leaving the afternoons for make-up testing and just a general belief that many students test better in the mornings and “wear down” a little too much in the afternoons. Again, no knowledge of actual real-world testing “conditions.”

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