Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

IDOE: After Two Days Of ISTEP+ Glitches, Some Testing Can Resume Wednesday

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Laptops set up with pencils and scratch paper at the ready in a temporary testing lab at Tecumseh Junior High in Lafayette.

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:

Are you in a school today? What problems are you seeing? Tweet us (@StateImpactIN), e-mail us, or leave a comment.

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:

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.

Here’s a statement from the Indiana State Teachers Association:

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.


  • Karynb9

    Unfortunately, that’s the same “high degree of confidence” CTB has that the tests they’ve designed are valid to measure student AND teacher achievement even when everything is “normal” and the tests are given in an appropriately-standardized environment.

  • Mouse Rat

    Excellent reporting — best coverage of this fiasco, though you need to detail the fines to CTB/McGraw-Hill that the contract specifies. $50,000 per day, increasing up to $150,000 per day, not to exceed 10% of the $26,000,000 they are being paid by the state this year. Their contract was extended 2 years by Tony Bennett just before last November’s election, despite two consecutive years of glitches; this year’s are even worse than the first two years combined.

    The fines are piddly, considering teacher evaluations, federal dollars, and student advancement all hinge on these tests. The costs to schools, teachers, students and their families across the state far exceed $50,000 per day. Any kind of failure should not be tolerated!

  • Karynb9

    I would really like the press to pick up more on the fact that Tony Bennett’s campaign received $6000 this past election cycle from CTB/McGraw-Hill. Why are we not surprised that Bennett didn’t really hold CTB’s feet to the fire after problems were detected with ISTEP online the past two years (though never to THIS degree)??? Why WOULD he attempt to fine them or penalize them in any way, even if the contract gave him the authorization to do so???

  • Jolie Lindley

    Again, like everything else the IN Legislature and governor have forced upon Indiana students, teachers and administrators – follow the money. As stated below, Bennett received pretty hefty campaign contributions from McGraw Hill. The testing companies are making these kinds of contriubtions all over the country, and then legislatures are mandating all these tests in the name of “improving education.” It’s ludicrous, and every educator knows it. When the parents in this state finally get fed up enough to start revolting and to vote some of these clowns out of office, then things will finally change. Maybe this ISTEP fiasco will be the catalyst for that. One can only hope.

  • Susan Hurst

    Same thing happened here in Oklahoma again today. We were finally able to get the students on the test at about 11:40 AM (after starting at 9:20 AM and having the kids click the CTB icon and then the error message repeatedly for 2 hrs.). My daughter’s district didn’t even try today and is trying to reschedule. Our testing window ends statewide on Friday. So far, no help from the Oklahoma State Dept. of Education.

  • Karynb9

    50% testing capacity is still NOT okay. This completely throws off any schedules that had already been made for Wednesday’s testing (and if setting up the computers is 50% of the battle, then putting together schedules that ensure all students take the test AND all accommodations are made for special education students is the other 50% of it). The fact that this information wasn’t released by the DOE until this evening means that teachers currently have no idea whether they’re supposed to be “teaching” tomorrow or “testing” tomorrow…and which students they may have if they DO end up teaching…so how are teachers supposed to plan rich, engaging, content-deep lessons for tomorrow when they have to have a Plan A, B, C, D, E, F, and G? Wasted day number three.

    You also have testing security issues (beyond the current disaster of having some students who saw all of the questions on the test on Monday morning…but were “kicked out” without having a chance to submit it…so they get to go BACK into the test after having two or three days to get the answer from a friend or use a calculator to find an answer and potentially change answers before “submitting” it) as many schools make a reasonable attempt to have all students at a grade level take the same test on the same day to reduce the opportunity for students to discuss questions/answers with students who haven’t taken the test.

  • CCSSIMath

    This is just the beginning, as we wrote about in March:

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