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Can You Believe This?

April 21, 2014

Oh no. It’s happening again.

I don’t know what clairvoyant out there had 8:30 the morning of April 21st in the betting pool. If that sounds familiar, you may already be a winner! In case you missed it today, online testing through the state vendor – CTB/McGraw-Hill kicked everybody offline – AGAIN! Here’s the memo the SDE released around 11:00 this morning:

Oklahoma grades 6-8 and EOI testing disruptionOK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 04/21/2014 11:05 AM CDT

Oklahoma Grades 6-8 and EOI Tests Suspended for the Day

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 21, 2014) – As a result of online testing disruptions for students in grades 6-8 and high school end-of-instruction (EOIs) exams, State Superintendent Janet Barresi has directed testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill to suspend online testing for today.

“We certainly share in the frustration that students and school districts feel,” Barresi said. “It is of paramount importance that CTB finds the nature of the problem and resolves it as quickly as possible.”

About 6,000 students in grades 6-8 and high school EOIs were disrupted as a result of a system-wide problem with testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill’s network.

This did not affect third-grade reading tests, as tests for grades 3-5 are administered by paper and pencil.

CTB technicians are onsite at the agency and in constant communication with the company’s national headquarters working to determine the exact nature of the disruption.

Districts were advised to allow students who were successfully testing to complete tests. Districts were asked to suspend online testing for all students who had not yet started assessments.

The system is designed to save student responses up to the point of disruption, so it may be possible for those students to successfully complete the test when the system is operational.

We currently are exploring permanent options for those students disruption.

We cannot re-elect the person who re-hired the testing company that allowed this to happen twice!

To refresh your memory, when CTB failed us last year, Superintendent Barresi issued a quick, terse response:

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 30, 2013) – The Oklahoma State Department of Education experienced complications with online assessments for grades 6 through 12 throughout the school day on Monday and for the better part of Tuesday.Testing Company CTB/McGraw Hill reported problems with their servers while uploading student assessment results. Students were reportedly knocked off the system mid-assessment.

State Superintendent Janet Barresi said, “This is completely unacceptable. We are outraged that our school districts are not able to administer assessments in a smooth and efficient manner. This is especially disruptive for the children who have worked hard all year and now have the opportunity to let us know what they have achieved. To be interrupted during testing is a very difficult and stressful environment for our children and educators.”

“We are working closely with the testing company to remedy the situation. Once that is done, we will have discussions about how to proceed with accommodations for the districts and how to proceed with CTB,” Barresi said.

If testing shows we care, then allowing this to happen twice shows how careless we are.

At 1:30 today, Superintendent Barresi held a press conference to discuss these problems in more detail. She threw the words unacceptable and outraged around quite a bit. She repeatedly mentioned that schools did everything that had been asked of them and that nobody was to blame for this other than CTB. She even took questions.

One of the first questions was about how much we pay these people. She didn’t have those numbers off hand, but she sent for them, and she gave the amounts before she finished.

That’s more than $13.5 million. As one smart aleck pointed out (ok, it was me), that would cover a $2,000 raise for every teacher in the state!

Another question was about the fact that Indiana started testing today. If you’ll recall, last year, Oklahoma and Indiana both had CTB meltdowns on the same day. Barresi said that should be a non-issue. We were promised by CTB that our tests would operate on completely different servers. Also, CTB this was a company-wide failure, rather than just a testing glitch.

Barresi was asked about penalties for CTB. By the terms of the contract, we can fine them $15,000 per day, up to a total of 3 percent of the total contract. If the disruption lasts a day or two, the fine is pretty miniscule. Meanwhile, what happens to the tests?

Barresi mentioned that she made CTB ensure that if we had kids kicked out again, the system would save their place. The problem is that we cease to have a standardized test at that point. Any delay of more than 20 minutes would result in invalidation anyway. Therefore, every student who started testing today and was interrupted would be in that situation.

Also, it makes me a little queasy to see that she’s assuring us this glitch didn’t impact 3rd grade testing. Maybe that’s a silver lining. On the other hand, how many schools adjusted their schedules, cancelled computer classes, and took the time of their patrons who volunteered for test monitoring today? How easy will it be to reschedule that?

Probably the most important question she had regarded the decision to retain CTB after last year’s debacle. She said there were two considerations. First, we had a five year contract with them. Second, we wouldn’t have had the time to select a new vendor, as late as the problems occurred. Both of these claims are patently false.

CTB failed us so badly last year, we would have been well within our rights to fire them. Instead, we bent over and said they had been punished. The damages paid by CTB included $678,000 in 2nd grade benchmarks that schools didn’t want.  It also included $125,000 for the technology readiness assessment that our schools nailed. Unfortunately, nobody was testing their readiness.

Beyond that, we would have had plenty of time to select a new vendor. Barresi blames the Request for Purchase process for not having enough time. That’s not true at all. Remember that time we had to negate the first contract with CTB due to “administrative challenges” in October and re-award it a couple of months later? Maybe we should have spent a little more time shopping around.

The truth is that Janet Barresi and the SDE had options. This failure is as much on them as it is on CTB, and it’s unacceptable. I’m furious and outraged too. I’ll close by posting what has probably been my most retweeted comment in all the time I’ve been using social media.

  1. April 21, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    It’s truly amazing. You can’t make this stuff up! Don’t forget that CTB also misplaced (and still hasn’t accounted for 1000 test booklets from last spring. Last year’s tests should have been invalidated…and this year’s are now suspect. What grade give ‘ye now, JB?


  2. Brooke
    April 21, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    She will undoubtedly stand behind grades (A-F) that schools receive based on botched testing. Stupid woman.


  3. P3
    April 22, 2014 at 8:15 am

    I have to wonder how much more children would have learned if they had adequate instructional materials in their classrooms instead of so many tests.


  1. April 27, 2014 at 8:19 pm
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