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ISTEP+ 2013: The Year Of The 'Please Wait' Globe

Background

Screenshot from CTB/McGraw Hill Website

A "red flag" message on the CTB/McGraw Hill status page for the online ISTEP+ exams on Monday, April 29.

Statewide, 73.5 percent of Indiana students passed the state’s standardized ISTEP+ test in 2013 — a pass rate two and a half points higher than last year.

Indiana students made those gains in spite of computer glitches that interrupted testing twice in the spring and questions about the exam’s validity.

On Monday, April 29, 2013, Indiana students in Grades 3-8 began taking online portions of the ISTEP+. Between 8 and 9 a.m. Eastern, the testing website began locking students out of the exam. Some students were unable to log into their exams. Others were locked out of the testing website during their exams, forcing students to wait in front of “Please Wait” screens featuring an image of a globe — the infamous “globe screen.”

In total, the computer problems disrupted around 30,000 testing sessions, state education officials reported. Many districts decided to suspend testing for the day.

A problem with a server at testing company CTB/McGraw Hill caused the disruptions. The company — which is in the midst of a four-year, $95 million contract with the Indiana Department of Education to administer the online exams — added memory to the servers before testing resumed on Tuesday, April 30, assuring state officials the issues had been resolved.

But around 11 a.m. Eastern Tuesday, the problems resurfaced after a separate server problem cropped up, prompting IDOE officials to recommend schools put testing on hold again. State officials recommended schools cut testing loads in half to reduce the amount of traffic on the CTB servers.

On an abbreviated schedule, testing resumed on Wednesday, May 1. Schools reported few incidents. By Monday, May 6, state officials recommended schools resume full testing schedules.

Many district officials and some state board members are questioned the validity of the test results, which are used in grading schools and evaluating teachers. So the Department of Education brought in a testing expert for an outside review of the results.

But after six weeks of studying the results, the Center for Assessment’s Richard Hill concluded the interruptions did not have a substantial impact on student scores.

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