Like it or not, Indiana's ISTEP+ is a high-stakes test. This week's interruptions to the testing process are disgraceful.
There is great pressure put on children -- too much, really -- to perform well on this test. Some schools even hold pep rallies with skits and other motivational efforts to inspire their students to do their best on the test.
Nerves are already on edge when ISTEP time rolls around. Connection problems when doing the test online make children suffer even more.
“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.
Those stakes are high indeed. Not just the students' future, but also that of teachers, administrators and schools, hangs in the balance.
That's what makes the technical difficulties this week worse than merely annoying.
The computer issues involved logging into the exam and being disconnected once the test had already begun. Some students, once reconnected, rushed to finish the test on time. That surely will affect their scores.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz instructed schools to decrease the daily test load by about 50 percent to reduce the stress on the computer system for ISTEP.
CTB/McGraw Hill's apology to Hoosier students, parents, teachers and Ritz said the company conducted performance and load testing, but "our simulations did not fully anticipate the patterns of live student testing, and as a result, our system configuration experienced service interruptions that impacted the testing process."
While we accept CTB/McGraw Hill's apology, the bottom line is that the company failed to ensure there was adequate capacity.
The Indiana Department of Education contract with CTB/McGraw Hill includes a financial penalty of $50,000 per day if the company fails to provide uninterrupted availability of the system.
Ritz said Wednesday the focus now is on getting the test accomplished. The company should pay that penalty without waiting to be sued for breach of contract. Spare the expense of the lawyers to maintain a good relationship with the state, and prove the apology is truly heartfelt.
The stakes are high for schools, teachers students on the ISTEP. They should be high for the vendor administering the test as well.