Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Were Online ISTEP+ Testing Disruptions More Widespread Than We're Hearing?

On April 29 and April 30, server issues at testing company CTB/McGraw Hill disrupted thousands of Indiana students' online ISTEP+ exams.

StateImpact Photo Illustration by Kyle Stokes

On April 29 and April 30, server issues at testing company CTB/McGraw Hill disrupted thousands of Indiana students' online ISTEP+ exams.

The list of students who may have experienced problems with their online ISTEP+ tests this spring is getting longer.

District officials across the state have given the Indiana Department of Education a total of more than 67,000 students who had problems during the test, but whose exams testing company CTB/McGraw-Hill did not flag as “disrupted.”

That’s 67,000 student exams in addition to the 78,000 disrupted tests CTB has already identified for further review, department spokesperson David Galvin tells StateImpact.

With the district’s additions, three out of every 10 completed ISTEP+ exams across the state have now been flagged for further review by the New Hampshire-based Center for Assessment, an outside group state officials have hired to determine whether the interruptions were enough to invalidate the test results.

While the additional numbers show district-level educators see the interruptions as more widespread than previous estimates, it’s not clear what a testing “disruption” looked like for those 67,000 additional students.

On Monday, state superintendent Glenda Ritz said CTB/McGraw-Hill generated the initial list of 78,000 students who experienced “anywhere from a few seconds of interruption to long interruptions” on their tests.

But local school officials say the problems with the online ISTEP+ went beyond interrupted connections to the testing website.

Some students using an adaptive testing feature where the computer plays audio of the answer choices out loud noticed the testing system “read back an answer choice that is different from the one selected by the student.”

Other district leaders have disputed CTB representatives’ claims that the testing website saved students’ disrupted tests, saying those students had to start their ISTEP+ exams over.

How Did The Districts Come Up With These Additions?

Laura Cain, the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Fort Wayne Community Schools,said district officials asked teachers to document irregularities beyond server interruptions. They then asked teachers to review CTB’s lists and mark any additional students whose tests were also disrupted.

“Whether it was because my ‘world’ kept spinning” — referring to the images of globes students saw on the “Please Wait” screens — “because it wouldn’t allow me to go onto the next question or because it was reading the wrong [test item], all of that is an interruption in that testing environment. It is an irregularity in testing, for sure,” Cain says.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz delivers remarks from the desk in her statehouse office during a news conference.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

State superintendent Glenda Ritz delivers remarks from the desk in her statehouse office during a news conference.

But different districts had different methodologies for collecting these disruptions.

For instance, Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation spokesperson Marsha Jackson says district officials asked teachers to identify students who had problems with the ISTEP+ website during the test. They didn’t consider factors that might have disrupted the testing environment, like changes to students’ schedules, in determining which students’ names to send to the state.

But Northwest Allen Community Schools superintendent Chris Himsel told StateImpact he submitted every single one of his students as having been interrupted.

Aside from saying he wanted district personnel “to work directly with students instead of completing yet another report from the DOE/CTB,” Himsel says there are too many variables — from the possibility students discussed items between disrupted testing sessions to the emotional impact on students — to consider in determining which students were impacted.


  • Karynb9

    It’s a standardized test. If I am administering the test and deviate even slightly from the scripted instructions that I’m supposed to give students, it’s a “testing irregularity” and I could theoretically be in trouble with the results of my students considered invalid because the test was originally normed with students who were given the test with those specific scripted instructions. A disruption to the testing environment of a standardized test is a problem.

  • Jolie

    Yes, on one day, our junior high students were testing and then sent back to classes after the state shut down the system. Later, an announcement from the office told our seventh graders to report to their testing site immediately after lunch, as the computer issues had been solved and the state said the test was back “on.” Not 15 minutes later, a second announcement came for these same students to go back to their regular classrooms; the test had been postponed. Not only was that a disruption of the whole school for repeated announcements over the intercom, junior high teachers had a hard time getting those kids back on track in a regular classroom setting. The teachers also did not necessarily have materials ready to go for their regular classes for that day, as they had been expecting to proctor tests and not have a regular class. The teachers had to corral kids and also throw together class materials unexpectedly. The students also experienced the anxiety of having their testing drawn out for another day or two. I would definitely say all those things were “disruptions” that didn’t get reported but probably affected test outcomes to some extent.

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