FORT WAYNE — The Indiana Department of Education said it believes a contractor has fixed the problems that kicked as many as 9,000 students offline during computerized ISTEP tests last year.
The Department of Education expects about 320,000 students across the state to take the standardized tests online starting this week — up from about 200,000 students last year when a system error caused some to be logged off the tests for more than an hour.
Trial runs done this year with contractor CTB/McGraw-Hill have state officials confident that any new glitches will be due to computer failure or a school’s inadequate Internet capacity, Wes Bruce, the state department’s chief assessment officer, said Monday.
“We are as bulletproof as we can be, but there will still be students whose tests are interrupted next week or the week after because of a computer failure, or a switch in a network that is a little buggy,” Bruce said. “We don’t want people’s expectations to be too high.”
Last spring’s disruptions didn’t cause any students’ answers to be lost, but some educators expressed concern that the stress of the experience would hurt student performance.
Samantha Harpring, testing coordinator for the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., said that to avoid computer glitches during ISTEP testing this year, the district opted for as few online tests as possible.
That means BCSC students will be taking only a pilot science portion of the test on computers, Harpring said. The rest of their answers, she said, will be bubbled in on paper and graded by a machine.
Last year the district experienced ISTEP computer glitches at almost every school, particularly CSA Fodrea and Central Middle School, Harpring said. While no test answers were lost, students testing time was delayed, she said, which hurts their ability to concentrate.
Bruce said CTB/McGraw-Hill determined that last year’s problems were caused by the software, and he said the company spent millions addressing the issue and implementing an updated quality-assurance program that requires two people to double-check any manual work.
The company also reduced its price for services provided last year.
“There were adjustments made for their failure to perform,” Bruce said. “Our kids in Indiana, their tests got interrupted. That’s not acceptable.”
Bruce said the Department of Education didn’t need to explore using other vendors, because CTB/McGraw-Hill took responsibility for the problems and was eager to fix them.
CTB/McGraw-Hill said in a statement that it was “confident that the necessary steps have been taken to ensure the successful administration of this year’s ISTEP+ program.”
The annual ISTEP test isn’t used in student grades, but scores can affect state and federal school rankings.
In March, students in Grades 3 through 8 took the first round of the test, which involves essay questions and math problem-solving. Students must take the second round, which includes the multiple choice portion, before May 9.
Some school officials are still concerned about how many students will be taking the test with the online system, said Bill Diehl, director of technology and accountability for the East Allen County Schools.
“Am I worried? Somewhat,” Diehl said. “But I think they’ve beefed things up, and I know that they don’t want a repeat of last year.”
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