McGraw-Hill admits "mistakes" in ISTEP testing glitches

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The company that administers the statewide ISTEP+ test admitted they made a mistake when glitches interrupted testing twice this spring.

The trouble began on the first day of testing, April 29, when the computers went down and testing was suspended two straight days. Computers went down again for a short time on May 13.

"There was more demand on the system, overwhelming the system and services, created bottlenecks on those days and we had to add memory one day, add memory the next day to clear the bottlenecks," said Ellen Haley, president of CTB/McGraw-Hill.

That was the simple answer Haley gave to the State Education Commission Friday. 482,000 students experienced delays in taking the test that measures student learning and is used as a measuring stick for teachers and individual schools.

"Should we be able to rely on these scores?" asked State Senator Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis).

"I think it is premature. I know that is not what you want to hear," Haley replied.

Earlier in the day, the State Department of Education announced that it would ask for over $600,000 dollars in damages from CTB/McGraw-Hill for the fiasco. Haley declined to talk about possible fines, saying only that was under negotiation with the DOE.

"We did make a mistake. We did not adequately load test our back-end systems. As soon as we realized that, we added more memory of two types and it immediately corrected the problem," Haley said.

"I would like to disagree. This was not a two-day fix. We were involved in testing for over three weeks," said Fort Wayne Superintendent Dr. Wendy Robinson.

Robinson was very direct in her assessment of the problem.

"The climate and the culture around the accountability we have developed has been shaken," she said.

Some lawmakers expressed fear that CTB/McGraw-Hill didn't really understand the scope of the problem.

"I fear this problem is bigger than you are aware of," said Rep. Kreg Battles (D-Vincennes).

The problem started in the classroom, but is now reverberating through the state's entire education system.

"We were ready for ISTEP, but ISTEP was not ready for us," Robinson said.

Indiana Rep. Bob Behning told Eyewitness News at Noon that valuable instruction time was lost when tens of thousands of Indiana students were locked out of tests by a technical glitch.

"Our goal is to find out how we can correct this and make sure it doesn't happen in the future," he said.

On the question of validity, he says he's been in touch with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and they'll know more once the data starts coming in at the end of July.

"Until then we won't know about validity," he said.

The Department of Education says preliminary damages won't be less than $613,600 and could go into millions of dollars.

That includes $400,000 in liquidated damages provided for in the contract between the Department of Education and CTB/McGraw-Hill. It also includes $53,600 that the Department will spend to have a third party conduct an analysis of the scores of students that had their testing sessions interrupted and at least $160,00 for other related costs associated with enhanced reporting data

The DOE is also seeking damages for:

Reimbursement to Indiana schools for additional costs incurred to administer ISTEP+ during the extended testing window.

Reimbursement to the Indiana Department of Education for additional costs incurred because of ISTEP+ testing interruptions.

"I have worked closely with CTB throughout the ISTEP+ testing process," said Superintendent Ritz. "The consequences of CTB's server failures were real and significant for Indiana schools. As Superintendent, I will work to ensure that schools are made whole while continuing to negotiate with CTB in good faith."

CTB/McGraw Hill is in the third year of a four-year, nearly $100-million contract with the State of Indiana to administer ISTEP tests throughout the state. Low estimates project 16 percent of students, about 80,000, encountered some sort of problem last month taking the test.

Some students were locked out of the test for up to 20 minutes. Many administrators want the results thrown out, fearing the test would misrepresent their students' abilities.

Today's hearing is all about getting answers.

"This is a huge investment by the state," said Rep. Behning. "It's a big investment in terms of time for students, education leaders, so it is important that we hear what happened and that we fix the problem."