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Schools delay ISTEP testing, seek waivers from online requirement after latest glitches

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INDIANAPOLIS — School districts across Indiana are delaying the second round of ISTEP+ testing or asking the Department of Education for permission to administer the exam with paper and pencil after experiencing continuing problems with an online server.

Districts in Franklin, Kokomo and Columbus are among those that have received waivers from the online testing requirement. Fort Wayne Community Schools and the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. have delayed the start of testing after experiencing problems during online practice sessions.

The issues are fueling already heightened concerns over how students will perform on the high-stakes exam, which is used to evaluate schools and teachers. Outrage over changes to the exam that more than doubled its length, to about 12 hours, forced Gov. Mike Pence and lawmakers to find ways to shorten the test earlier this year.

Warrick County Superintendent Brad Schneider said practice testing in his district was an "absolute disaster" and said it's not acceptable to be experiencing problems as testing begins.

"Someone needs to answer for this simply because this is a high-stakes test. ... And if we can't provide a testing platform in which students are not disrupted ... what kind of impact will it have?" Schneider said.

The problems include students not being able to log onto the system, frames freezing, calculators and other functions not working and students only being allowed to click one answer on multiple choice questions when they are prompted to select more, the Evansville Courier & Press reported.

Lissa Stranahan, director of exceptional learners and testing at Western Schools in Russiaville, called the testing issues a "debacle" in an email to House Speaker Brian Bosma.

"It is an embarrassment to the entire state. This assessment will not reflect the true abilities of students, teachers and schools," she wrote.

Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman told The Associated Press on Thursday that the first day of testing was "going smoothly" and that the rate of interruptions was low.

He said the department was reaching out to schools that had reported disruptions to resolve the issues.

Educators say they're frustrated by continuing problems with the online test and vendor CTB/McGraw Hill. In the past three years, schools have had repeated problems ranging from screens freezing to seeing blank screens instead of questions. In 2013, schools statewide had multiple problems and an estimated 70,000 students experienced disruptions that included screens freezing and being kicked out of the test.

"The state should have their act together by now," Principal Mark Heiden of Creekside Elementary in Franklin told the Daily Journal. "At what point is someone going to get this under control?"

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