Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Preliminary ISTEP+ Tests Experience Interruptions…Again

    Updated, 4:03 p.m.: Technology directors at a number of Indiana schools report experiencing interruptions Tuesday as students take the preliminary test for this spring’s ISTEP+.

    The "spinning globe" returned Tuesday, as schools across the state experienced interruptions during stress tests for the upcoming ISTEP+.

    The “spinning globe” returned Tuesday, as schools across the state experienced interruptions during stress tests for the upcoming ISTEP+.

    It’s an unwelcome déjá vu: districts already dealt with this headache back in the spring of 2013, when schools were forced to suspend testing two days in a row, after students encountered problems with the testing website. In the days that followed, testing company CTB/McGraw Hill – the same company administering this year’s test – blamed the issue on server problems.

    The Indiana Department of Education settled with CTB/McGraw Hill to the tune of $3 million this past summer.

    This time around, schools across the state were scheduled to administer the online “stress test” between 10 and 11 a.m. Tuesday morning.

    Sam Klawitter, director of technology for Mitchell Community Schools, says by 10:07 a.m., a majority of the 270 students taking the test had experienced timeouts – and it only got worse from there. By about 10:15 a.m., it had become essentially impossible to continue administering the test.

    And Klawitter is understandably frustrated.

    “My reaction is kind of one of contained outrage – it’s rather disappointing when it fails every year,” Klawitter says. “The standard testing models that are in place for both Indiana and at a federal level are already fundamentally flawed in the expectations that they create for our students, but they’re further complicated by the fact that they’re technically impossible to execute.”

    Klawitter says he has been following a multi-user online forum for Indiana school technology coordinators called HECC Tech throughout the day, and found he was not alone. He estimates about 150 other school leaders said they had experienced similar issues.

    CTB sent out a memo instructing schools to try administering the test again at 1 p.m., but by that point Klawitter says it wasn’t worth the time and trouble to administer the test again. He adds that a large percentage of schools systems he heard from are refusing, as well.

    Similar performance issues also occurred Tuesday during readiness tests in Georgia. Representatives for CTB/McGraw Hill said in a statement that the company is taking steps to remedy the issue, and expect to resume testing during a second round of preparatory tests in both states.

    “CTB conducts statewide readiness tests annually to determine the ability of our systems to perform under the highest possible level of stress—a level that far exceeds the stress that will be put on the system during actual statewide testing,” the statement says. “While we regret the inconvenience caused by the issues experienced today, we are confident that the issues will be fully addressed to allow for a successful administration of the actual 2015 online tests in each state.”

    This marks the last school year in CTB’s contract with Indiana. The state is still seeking proposals from companies hoping to administer a new version of the test in 2015-16 to align with new state academic standards.

    “Whoever is elected to be the next contractor, what they need to do is make the system work,” Klawitter says. “The system as it stands simply doesn’t work for really anybody across the board. The next contractor…they need to design a system which does everything it says that it’s going to do.”

    Students are expected to take the actual ISTEP+ test in two sittings – one in March, and the other in late April.


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