Computer issues force suspension of ISTEP testing for remainder of Tuesday

2013-04-30T17:00:00Z 2013-05-10T21:27:07Z Computer issues force suspension of ISTEP testing for remainder of TuesdayChelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

Indiana online ISTEP+ testing is expected to resume Wednesday after the state suspended testing Tuesday because connectivity issues plagued test takers for a second consecutive day.

"Based upon assurances made by (state testing contractor) CTB McGraw Hill, the Indiana Department of Education is opening ISTEP+ testing (Wednesday)," read a statement from the department. "In order to prevent further issues, the (IDOE) 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."

Local districts were reporting similar glitches Monday with some schools not being able to log in to the testing software or students getting kicked off the test. Some school districts were able to conduct testing smoothly Tuesday morning before interruptions began to pick up about 10 a.m.

“The problem is you start the test and you freeze up and that's difficult for a child to maintain concentration particularly on a high-stakes test like ISTEP,” said Lake Station Community Schools Superintendent Dan DeHaven. “It's unfortunate we're running into these kind of problems.”

The Indiana Department of Education suspended testing about 11:45 a.m. after monitoring the situation Tuesday morning.

In a statement, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said, “This decision was not made lightly, but was done to minimize further disruptions for our schools. All of our students deserve to take a test that is valid, accurate and reliable.”

IDOE has extended the online testing window by three days to May 15 because of the interruptions, school administrators confirmed.

IDOE spokesman Daniel Altman said the decision to extend the window was made before problems arose Tuesday, and the state has not determined whether a further expansion is needed.

Lake Station Community Schools received permission to test third-graders with a paper version of the test because of the delays. The ISTEP+ test is administered to students in third through eighth grades.

Debra Dudek, director of title and special student services for Portage Township Schools, said she's concerned the interruptions may hinder students performing their personal best on the test.

"When they do, if indeed they are one of the lucky ones to reconnect, they are going to naturally rush because they are trying to beat the clock type of thing," Dudek said.

Merrillville Community School Corp. suspended its ISTEP+ testing Tuesday not long before seeing the announcement from Ritz, said Assistant Superintendent Mark Sperling.

"We hope to be able to start again (Wednesday), but are concerned about the interruptions' impact on student success on this high-stakes exam," Sperling said in an email to The Times.

Like Merrillville, River Forest Community School Corp. already had decided to suspend testing for the remainder of Tuesday before IDOE's announcement because of connectivity issues, said Assistant Superintendent Tom Cripliver.

“From the information we are getting from the state, once the issues are resolved, students will be able to pick up where they left off,” Cripliver said.

The Indiana State Teachers Association had called on CTB McGraw-Hill to fix the issues immediately. The union also requested proof from the state that teachers wouldn't be "harmed" from ISTEP data compiled during the testing period.

"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 teachers' compensation," ISTA said in a released statement.

CTB McGraw-Hill did not return a request for comment Tuesday.

The IDOE pledged Tuesday to conduct a thorough review to determine the exact cause of the interruptions. The state has a four-year, $95 million contract with CTB McGraw-Hill, of Carol Stream, Ill., to deliver the ISTEP+ exam through 2014, state records show.

In 2011, up to 10,000 students statewide were logged off and some were unable to log back in for up to an hour while taking the test. The state invalidated 215 scores that year because they were lower than expected. About 9,000 students were kicked offline during the test last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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