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Next Verse, Same as the First

April 30, 2013

This has gone from ridiculous to unbelievable. Yesterday, in case you somehow missed it, state testing pretty much broke the Internet. It wasn’t just Oklahoma students crashing the CTB-McGraw Hill servers in New Jersey; Indiana had the exact same problems.

Today has to be better, right?

ALERT: System Interruption

District/Building Test Coordinators,

CTB/McGraw-Hill has received an increased number of reports regarding service interruptions during testing. Our staff is working to make the systems available as soon as possible.

Where possible, please suspend testing for a period of one hour.

Thank you,

CTB Online Program Team

In Indiana, where this is also still happening, State Superintendent Glenda Ritz suspended testing and issued a statement this morning:

Indianapolis – In response to system errors that prevented schools throughout the state from completing their ISTEP+ testing today, Glenda Ritz, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction issued the following statement:

“I am greatly disappointed to learn that Indiana schools had their ISTEP+ testing interrupted for the second consecutive day. Like all Hoosier parents, students and teachers, I find these interruptions frustrating and unacceptable.

“We have been constantly monitoring the situation this morning. Between approximately 7:30 and 11:00 over 150,000 test sessions were completed. At approximately 11:15 AM, there was a spike in test interruptions.

“Because of these errors, I have instructed the Department of Education to suspend testing for the remainder of the day. 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.

“At this time, CTB McGraw-Hill believes that testing will be able to continue tomorrow. I will communicate with schools directly regarding the timeframe to resume testing.

“The Indiana Department of Education is working with the company that administers the test to ensure that the rest of the test is administered smoothly and efficiently. We will also conduct a thorough review to determine the exact cause of this issue. Finally, we will also work with local schools so that they have the time they need to administer a fair test for all Hoosier students.”

Problem #1: It’s pretty hard to just suspend testing for a period of one hour. Testing is a tremendous disruption to everything that schools do. Yes, it’s a huge loss of instructional time, but transportation and child nutrition schedules are impacted as well. Some students attend CareerTech classes away from their high schools.

Problem #2: Seriously, how much credence should we put into this year’s results? Less than usual, I would hope. Students and teachers spend a lot of time getting ready for this time of year. You frustrate them, create extreme levels of stress, and have them waiting for the rug to disappear again. These are not ideal testing conditions.

Problem #3: This company is an expensive “upgrade” over Pearson. They have a one-year renewable contract. There would have to be some really surprising reason at this point to renew.

To their credit, the SDE did send out this notice to districts this morning:

April 30, 2013

Dear Superintendents and District Testing Coordinators,

It is our understanding that CTB McGraw Hill’s testing server crashed again this morning. We expect the company to send a communication to you, but we wanted to make sure you knew we are working on this as well.

We are in the process of determining an extension to the testing window, and will let you know details as soon as we have them.

We are so sorry for the problems you are experiencing. We are working with the company to determine the nature and scope of the problem and to ensure it is fixed.

Sincerely,

Maridyth McBee

Assistant State Superintendent of Assessments and Accountability

Which leads me to …

Problem #4: Extending the testing cycle only exacerbates the frustration felt over Problems 1-3.

Look, I realize the SDE hasn’t screwed up testing. This is entirely on CTB. The fact that another state is experiencing the same thing is proof of that. (By the way, I heard from readers in Colorado last night that they are now worried, having also selected CTB to replace Pearson.)

I’m focusing on both parts of Dr. McBee’s title. We know how the assessment process is currently going. What we don’t know is what the SDE plans to do with this in terms of accountability. Frankly, this year’s data is completely poisoned. Schools should still use the results to draw conclusions and plan for instructional improvement. It’s just hard to say that these results should be used as a gatekeeper for children. No, not every grade or subject is polluted. Some districts weren’t even planning to test yesterday or today. But the damage is pervasive, and it destroys the credibility of the test scores.

Tomorrow is another day, right?

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  1. IT Guru
    April 30, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    @heritage and ALEC must be having regrets about creating CC when making their NCLB waivers that most states used. Talk about eating your shoe! #OklahomaED @okeducationtruths

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  2. Teacher's Husband
    April 30, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Our school district just east of the OKC metro was unable to do any testing again today, Tuesday. The system is still not working. Maybe tomorrow. But no one is going to be holding their breath. Another day of EOI testing on hold while everyone pretty much twiddles their thumbs awaiting news and direction.

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    • Teacher's Husband
      April 30, 2013 at 4:11 pm

      And of course, the rest of the district’s grades/students are again prevented from using the computers for another day in the event the system miraculously comes alive and work can begin. The district wants to keep their end open and ready to go on very short notice.

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  3. Rob miller
    April 30, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Great post! I would disagree gently on the assertion that the SDE bears no responsibility for this fiasco. Remember how the SDE’s incompetence led to the rebidding of our state testing contract. I realize that this disruption is with the EOI’s and not the OCCT’s, but I wonder how all of the confusion and miscommunication affected CTB’s ability to get ready in a few short months. They seem to have been playing catchup since the beginning. Anyone out there confident of the testing company’s ability to handle the significant increase in online testing in two years? PARCC will require that every student in grades 3-11 take nine or more online tests in the last quarter of the school year. These tests are expected to be more “interactive” and will certainly require more graphics and greater memory storage. This will involve over 20 million students in dozens of states all taking multiple tests at the same time. If the servers cannot handle the current demands, how will they handle the greatly increased demands in less than 24 months?

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    • April 30, 2013 at 9:23 pm

      Rob, you are right. I don’t blame the SDE specifically for the failure of the server; I do however blame them for so many things.

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      • Rob Miller
        May 1, 2013 at 8:12 am

        April is always stressful due to testing, but this year has been made much more so but the decisions of the SDE. First, we had to reschedule the writing tests to the first week of April due to the contract snafu. Then we receive the materials for the other paper tests just days before the actual testing which then forced staff to work over the weekend to prepare. CTB did not provide log-in information for the online testing until the week before, leaving our test coordinators very little time to navigate a new system and set up testing sessions. Now, we have these “technical” issues which are causing thousands of students to have their tests invalidated. Superintendent Barresi has the audacity to come out for reduced testing (something she campaigned for in 2010), while knowing full well that PARCC will greatly increase the testing requirements. It is maddening! Thanks for putting the issues out there.

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  1. May 1, 2013 at 6:54 am
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