Glitch forces vendor to suspend ISTEP testing for second day

A computer glitch caused many school districts to halt ISTEP testing two days in a row.
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For the second day in a row, a computer failure shut down the state's ISTEP testing. The problems were so severe that the state superintendent ordered all schools to stop testing just before noon.

Students were getting kicked offline while trying to take the computer-based test, causing disruptive interruptions during the most important test of the year. ISTEP scores are used not only to gauge student improvement and advancement but also teacher performance.

School officials in Lawrence were upset to encounter another day of problems in the high-stakes test.

It was a frustrating day at the Amy Beverland Learning Center in Lawrence and at scores of other schools across the state. For the second day in a row, students taking the ISTEP had to stop because of a systemwide computer glitch.

"The screen may freeze or go blank or they'll get a symbol; the symbol spins for a while. It may tell them that they need to stop," said Jan Combs, associate superintendent of Lawrence Township Schools.

Combs said it's created a huge distraction.

"You have limited computer labs and for the first time all of our children are testing online. So what was already a tight schedule has become more disruptive and tighter. So our students who are scheduled in the computer lab are extended there or didn't work at all and we have to reschedule them back which affects all the other students' schedules as well," she explained.

Given all the disruptions, she worries about the validity of the test results, which are tied to teacher compensation and letter grades given to individual schools and school districts.

Parents picking up their kids Tuesday were not happy.

"I think if you're gonna run computerized testing, you gotta benchmark the system and test it so it's good enough to know you're not gonna have issues like this. It's kind of sad," said one parent.

"I was kind of disappointed because I was actually here when my third grader was supposed to be taking it and he told me he couldn't take the test and I know he was disappointed because there was a lot of back and forth," said one mother.

The test dates have been extended by a few days.

In all, about 27,000 students, along with their teachers and administrators, were affected. Teachers must submit disruption reports to document the problems and they have until May 15 to complete the testing.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz released this statement:

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

Ritz message to schools:

The Indiana Department of Education sent this message from Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz to all schools Tuesday afternoon:

"I am greatly disappointed to learn that Indiana schools had their ISTEP+ testing interrupted for a 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."

CTB/McGraw Hill

CTB/McGraw Hill administers the ISTEP testing program. The company posted the following statement on its website Tuesday:

"CTB has received an increased incidence of interruptions. Our staff is working to make further system adjustments to make the system available as soon as possible. Please suspend testing until 12:30 EDT."

Monday problems

IPS had plans to resume testing Tuesday after the same problem halted testing Monday. Early Tuesday, it appeared that everything was up and running again.

"All online testing systems are operational with no reported interruptions," said CTB/McGraw Hill shortly after 8:00 am.

But late Tuesday morning, the school district posted to Twitter, "Our schools are experiencing difficulties with the ISTEP online test again today and we have suspended testing & contacted CTB."

It isn't clear what happened that led to the system experiencing further problems Tuesday. Earlier in the morning, Indianapolis Public Schools spokesperson told Eyewitness News, "We plan to test. We are just beginning.  My folks are telling me that the telling time period will be 10:00 to 11:00 am when there is a lot of stress on the testing program. Many schools across the state opted not to test on Monday, so there will be more sites testing today."

But at around 11:30 am, IPS had called off testing for the day, saying in this statement, "Indianapolis Public Schools are experiencing difficulties with the ISTEP+ online test similar to disruptions the district encountered Monday. The technical issues caused the district to suspend testing. IPS officials are contacting the test administrator, CTB/McGraw Hill to isolate the source of the disruption and steps to resolving the issues."

A short time after that it was learned that the problem was affecting schools across the state, and the IDOE issued the order to suspend testing for the day.

Statewide problem

School districts all over the state reported the problem Monday, and many had planned to try again Tuesday to administer the required test that measures not just student progress, but teacher effectiveness.

"They were getting messages that there were communications errors," said Robin Cain, a teacher at IPS School 91.

The ISTEP testing software glitches affected IPS School 91 and others statewide. IPS suspended testing because of the problem Monday, as did school districts in Carmel, Hamilton Southeastern, Wayne Township, Brownsburg, Plainfield, Avon, Mooresville and many more.

"Our immediate efforts to resolve the issue were not successful. Technology engineers are working diligently to resolve the source of the issue," said CTB/McGraw Hill, the outside testing company that administers ISTEP.

Some computers were still acting up Monday afternoon.  Students were logged off in the middle of the test, and reported delays when logging back into the test program. 

Some were able to log back in and finish the test. Others were not. It turns out this was an issue at dozens of schools and many districts throughout the state.

And when you consider how both students and teachers prepare and gear up for these tests, it was frustrating. "They were flustered," said Cain. "(There is) no way to gauge things."

Most districts told students they should plan on taking the test Tuesday.

As Sheila Akinleye picked her daughter up from school Monday, she said the glitch "is unfortunate, it really is."

Parents help their kids gear up with a good night's sleep and a good breakfast before the testing. "You want it to go smoothly as planned," said Akinleye.

"Certainly, it's disappointing," said another parent, Gina Cerimele.

She says students try hard and the glitch makes it harder.

IPS School 91 teacher Lee Ann Lord says students "were a bit frustrated and I, too, am concerned about the validity of the test, because of the stops and starts."

But tech savvy students at IPS School 91 were able to finish the test.

"They handled it very well and we're ready to try again tomorrow," said Cain.