Ritz focused on finishing ISTEP amid technical glitches

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Students across Indiana were taking the ISTEP+ test Wednesday after technical problems plagued schools for two days this week.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz told reporters things were running much more smoothly Wednesday than over the previous two days. She also said schools had halved the number of students taking the test to relieve some of the pressure on the system. The goal now is to get everyone tested.

"It's my understanding that ISTEP is going smoothly today. We did cut the load of the number of students in half that are actually on the online assessment. We're hoping that that's gonna be sustaining and able to get students completing their tests," she said.

Some teachers and parents are wondering how this week's test will count towards student performance or teacher evaluations, given all the disruptions. On the question of validity, Ritz said, "We have to look at all of that. Our first goal is to just get through the actual testing window and make sure that all students are taking the test."

Once testing is over, up next is a meeting with CTB McGraw-Hill, the vendor which administers the test. Ritz says the validity of this week's test a "prime concern."

"It is a very high stakes test in Indiana, and so we have to be very concerned about that and make sure we can ascertain the validity of the actual student assessments," said Ritz.

The online portion of ISTEP scrambles questions so that even students sitting next to one another taking the test at the same time are answering different questions, Ritz said in response to a question about potential cheating concerns.

CTB is keeping track of all students who were interrupted, and Ritz says once the assessments are complete, those results will be investigated.

Ritz says the Indiana Department of Education will be reviewing contractual obligations with CTB McGraw-Hill after this week's debacle. The state's $95 million contract with the company expires next year.

CTB has given two reasons for the failure: sustainability of load - the number of students on at any given time - and being able to sustain that load.

Ritz says there's an expected interruption rate of around two percent with any online testing system. But when it spiked to eight percent Tuesday, CTB went to a backup system. Depsite the backup system, the IDOE decided to suspend testing at that point as a precaution.

"They did several fixes last night," she said, but the IDOE did not go back to a full load to make sure there were no further interruptions.

IDOE released this statement late Wednesday:

Based upon assurances made by CTB McGraw-Hill, the Indiana Department of Education will continue ISTEP+ testing for Hoosier schools tomorrow, Thursday, May 2. In order to minimize interruptions to students, the Department has again asked schools to reduce their daily testing load by approximately 50%.

Schools have reported minimal interruptions throughout the day and as of 3:45 PM, over 300,000 testing sessions were completed statewide Wednesday.

The Department of Education has maintained constant contact with schools throughout the state as they navigate through this difficult situation. The Department remains committed to working with schools to ensure that they have the time they need to guarantee all Hoosier students have the opportunity to take a fair test.