Computer troubles mar standardized testing in multiple states

(bigstock)
(bigstock)

If you are wondering how the high-stakes standardized testing season is going around the country — including field testing of new Common Core-aligned standardized exams — here’s the answer: Not so great.

Since millions of kids began taking standardized tests online in March, computer problems have been reported in California, Florida, Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma — almost as many as in the entire 2013 assessment season (when six states had issues). And the 2014 testing runs into June.

The nature of some of the problems — students being unable to log onto computers, networks running slow or completely crashing, test timers not working, work not being saved, etc. — and the fact that they were not confined to a single test vendor or cause raise concerns for next year, when the actual Core-aligned standardized tests are administered. This also raises the question of whether the results of a timed standardized test that is interrupted by computer problems should be considered valid and reliable.

And add this to that mix: The Common Core tests are being designed to be given on computer, but many school districts are still far from having the full capacity to give the tests online.

In Oklahoma, for example, there were computer crashes as students were taking the state standardized test, which comes from vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill. It was the second year in a row that computer problems developed during standardized testing season. The Tulsa World reported that Ellen Haley, the president of  CTB/McGraw-Hill,  apologized late last week to Oklahoma’s Board of Education.

“We know how important tests are in the state, so even one child disrupted is not what we intended to happen.”

The state superintendent has recommended that the vendor be changed. CTB/McGraw-Hill also had computer problems with testing in Indiana — also for the second straight year — but other testing vendors had issues, too.

In Florida, students were taking the state’s annual high-stakes standardized test, designed by Pearson, when computers stopped working properly and thousands of students were affected in 26 counties.  Gov. Rick Scott, the Miami Herald reported, said the problems were “unacceptable.” Pearson has been administering the state’s standardized test for several years and has had repeated problems in Florida (and in many other states). Florida, which has fined the giant education company millions of dollars for failure to get results back accurately and quickly, is changing test vendors next year.

In California, there were computer problems with the field testing of Common Core tests being designed by the multistate Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two consortia designing new Core-aligned tests using millions in federal funds.

In Kansas, kids were taking the annual state assessment test, which is locally developed by the University of Kansas’ Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, when the computers stopped working because, the Topeka-Capital Journal reported, cyber attackers overwhelmed the system with traffic.

What is happening sounds uncannily like a prediction made two years ago by the nonprofit group FairTest, or the National Center for Fair & Open, which sent out a release in October 2012 predicting what the new Core-aligned assessments would look like. The release listed the following problems:

Companies with poor track records will design, administer and score Common Core exams. The same old firms, including Pearson, Educational Testing Service and CTB/McGraw-Hill, will produce the tests. These corporations have long histories of mistakes and scoring errors.

Districts will have to cut instructional staff and other basic services to divert money to testing. Federal grants will cover initial test production, but funding for continued development and administration is uncertain. Many schools lack the necessary computer infrastructure, requiring investment in equipment and bandwidth.

Enormous amounts of time will be wasted. To accommodate all students, testing will have to go on for weeks. This will cause even more disruption as classes are put on hold. Computer labs will be unavailable for teaching and learning.

Cassandra couldn’t have done better.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · April 28