BY BART DOAN
— ISTEP 2013 will be remembered for its chaos, as CTB/McGraw Hill server glitches caused two-day delays, student frustration, and school administrators concern with the validity of the results when the testing period is finally over.
Schools across the state were instructed Wednesday to test only 50 percent of their students at a time in an effort to help the system run more smoothly. The system was unable to handle the full volume of students Monday and, despite promises that the system was fixed by Tuesday, it still had problems causing another shut down.
Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Glenda Ritz called the delays “unacceptable.”
The impact was felt locally as well, as testing will not continue into next week.
Northwest Hendricks School Corporation Superintendent Rusty King said he is very concerned at this point what the scores will reflect.
“I’ve expressed my concerns to the state,” he said. “There could be a lack of validity to the test because kids are getting kicked out and getting frustrated. I don’t think they’ll be getting accurate results. They just couldn’t handle (the volume) of kids and they didn’t do a good check to make sure they could.”
Donna Petraits, communications coordinator for the Brownsburg Community School Corporation, said that because so much emphasis is put on this testing format, it was a let-down that had a ripple effect on not only students and teachers, but families as well.
“We really pump the kids up and get them excited and get them confident, so it was like when the lights went out in New Orleans in the Super Bowl earlier this year,” she said. “It’s hard to say how that will affect them. I think now that things are functioning normally, even though we’re at 50 percent (student testing at a time), we’ve had to split up our kids.”
Petraits said the BCSC intends to finish the elementary school portion of the test this week and then have the middle school students to their ISTEP testing next week, which could hamper family plans.
“We ask parents not to schedule appointments during testing,” she said. “So they’ve already rescheduled those things, and now a number of them will have to reschedule things for middle school students. It’s a big inconvenience for parents and a lot of people aren’t looking at that issue.”
Stacey Moore, community relations coordinator for the Avon Community School Corporation, also expressed frustration in the delays and altered testing schedule.
“A lot of emphasis is put on the ISTEP, and we spend a lot of time preparing,” she said. “With testing only 50 percent, it still wreaks havoc with the school schedule and it’s complex for our staff and students. This has been a frustrating situation for all of us.”
King believes scores from Monday and Tuesday should be thrown out and students allowed to start again. He said it’s worked fine since moving to 50 percent capacity.
Oklahoma also experienced similar problems with the CTB/McGraw Hill servers.
He also said that though there will be an investigation into the validity of the scores, he has concerns about that process as well.
“There is a team of educational scientists that check the validity based upon requirements, but my concerns are that they don’t know our students,” he said. “I’m sure they’re looking at how the students have done in the past, but they don’t know how our students reacted to it. I also question CTB doing the validity questions when they administered the testing. I think there needs to be a separate agency.”
Both King and Petraits said the Indiana Department of Education has been very helpful in the process, and that they shouldn’t bear the blame for this issue. And while concerns regarding online ISTEP testing will be louder than ever, neither was calling for a return to paper, just a more consistent system.
“First of all, you’d not be utilizing the technology that kids are going to use,” Petraits said of returning to paper testing. “But the provider needs to get caught up and assure the kids will be successful in their testing. If you go to paper and pencil, you have more potential for cheating.”
Moore added, “The test needs to be usable at the time it needs to be usable.”
She said the communication between the ACSC and parents made the situation easier to work with, and that the focus was not letting an adult problem turn into a student problem.
“We posted that the test had been delayed on Facebook, and (parents) were happy we let them know, and we continue to encourage the children to do their best, and they’ve been receptive to that,” she said.
King lauded his staff and students for working through the chaotic ISTEP time.
“It’s just one of those things that happens, but I give credit to my teachers and principals for how they’ve handled this,” he said.
Petraits also said that the strength of the individuals within the BCSC has been vital in maintaining a unique situation.
“You do have to drop back and punt, so to speak,” she said of changing plans on the fly. “We notified our middle school teachers (Wednesday) night because they had been anticipating ISTEP testing Thursday and Friday. It’s not the type of information you want to get the night before, but our teachers and administrators have handled it beautifully.”