Schools report widespread problems with ISTEP+ stress test

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INDIANAPOLIS (January 15, 2015)  – Several school districts are reporting significant problems after a statewide ISTEP+ stress test, a drill meant to identify potential problems with the testing system before the actual exams are given this spring.

On Tuesday, all Indiana school districts were asked to go online at 10:00 a.m.. Immediately, many districts started experiencing problems.

“I watched some of the third grade students,” recalls Dr. Harold Olin, Superintendent at Greenfield Central Schools. “It’s their first experience taking a test like this. The first couple questions went pretty well. Then it began to freeze up on them.”

Dr. Olin says he then headed over the middle school, where about 300 students were attempting to take the exam.

“When I got there, no student got past the third question,” he says. “It started freezing on them. Their screen wouldn’t move. Prior to getting to that third question, some of the students would answer the first one and then it would jump them forward a few questions. Of course, we had a few students who couldn’t get logged in as well.”

CTB McGraw Hill Education is the company behind Indiana’s ISTEP+ test. This year they are transitioning to a cloud service. Questions will also be updated to reflect Indiana’s new academic standards.

“We changed the standards, we’re changing the assessment and we’re changing the accountability system. They’re all three tied together, but they’re all new. We wanted that glance at what the assessment was going to look like, and we just didn’t get that opportunity.”

Brain Belardi, Director of Communications for CTB McGraw Hill Education, released the the following statement on the company’s behalf:

“On Jan. 13, during CTB’s readiness tests of online state assessments in Indiana, our systems experienced performance issues that prevented individuals from taking or completing the test. We are taking steps to confirm and remedy the issue and expect to resume testing during the next round of readiness tests in each state.

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. 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.”

The damage, says Dr. Olin, may not be fully reversible.

“It’s pretty frustrating for kids. You want to simulate a testing environment where they are taking this seriously, but when every 15 seconds another kid is being kicked off or the screen is freezing, it’s really difficult to simulate that testing environment,” says Dr. Olin. “It just doesn’t give the kids much confidence that when they do take it, it’s going to work well.”

Next week the district will hold another round of stress testing, but some districts worry about the amount of class time kids are missing.

“We are very curious about what that test format looks like and we want to see that, but we have to weight that versus lost instructional time,” says Dr. Olin.

Dr. Olin is hopeful the needed corrections can be made in time for this spring’s testing.

“The last four years, I would say two of those four years they were able to fix most of those minor issues and we moved on pretty well,” he says. “In fact, last year was probably the best year that we’ve had over the last four years. It has worked out for us by the time we get to the spring most of the time.”

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