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FWCS rejects ISTEP+ online testing

Cites new glitches; students to get paper tests


Before students could begin the next round of ISTEP+ online, Fort Wayne Community Schools officials decided it was better to call it quits on the computer-based version of the exam.

FWCS officials announced Monday the district would forgo plans to test students online this week and instead await the arrival of paper tests.

Nearly 12,000 students in grades 3 to 8 were scheduled to take the second round of ISTEP+ exams online over the next two weeks – some using desktop computers in labs and others piloting an iPad-friendly version of the test.

Students took the first section of the test, which includes essays and open-ended questions, in March and were expected to begin the multiple-choice section Monday, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.

But as connectivity issues began to crop up during student practice tests last week, district officials decided to suspend online testing.

The district will wait for paper exams to be delivered in May to allow students to take a version of the state test in a reliable format, officials said.

Southwest Allen County Schools suspended testing Tuesday.

The ISTEP+ exam is administered by CTB/McGraw-Hill under a four-year, $95 million contract with the Indiana Department of Education.

The contract will end in four months, but a settlement with the company for last year's testing issues has not been reached.

"The difference (between) this year and last year is we were caught off guard last year. The difference this year is we've spent a whole year preparing ourselves," Superintendent Wendy Robinson said.

Despite new equipment and improvements to infrastructure, some students struggled to stay connected to CTB-McGraw Hill's servers, and practice tests were interrupted, said Jack Byrd, director of technology for the school district.

"Everything appeared to be going fine until last Tuesday when we started receiving a lot of complaints, a lot of error reports from the schools that they could not connect to the CTB server," he said.

Students who were able to connect sometimes had to wait several minutes in between questions. When that happens, the testing program had to be shut down and restarted, Byrd said.

CTB officials contacted Haley and Harrison Hill elementary schools to say they saw error messages from the schools and sent two CTB technicians to Harrison Hill.

"Ironically, we had one computer when they walked in that was frozen, so they were able to see an error right in action," Byrd said. "They took a look at the computer, they captured the information and sent that back to CTB and could find nothing wrong with FWCS' network."

Byrd told Robinson that while things looked good from the FWCS technical setup, he could not guarantee the same for connecting with CTB.

"After several days of computer-network issues related to CTB-McGraw Hill's servers, we lost confidence that testing could take place without the extensive interruptions students experienced last year," Robinson said.

FWCS officials estimated that as many as 5,200 students were interrupted during last year's testing.

"We refuse to subject students and staff to the probability of the same thing happening this year," Robinson said. "Our students deserve the opportunity to be tested in an environment that is conducive to their success."

District leaders did not know Monday how soon the paper version of the exam would be delivered but said they were working with the state to make sure the test would be completed before the end of the year.

The last day of school is June 6.

Department of Education officials told the district it could take time for the test booklets and identification labels to be printed.

It is also not known how the delayed testing window will affect how long it takes for the district to receive the ISTEP+ score data, Robinson said.

Student scores from the exam weigh into school accountability grades issued by the state, teacher evaluations and other special recognitions from the Indiana Department of Education.

FWCS board members applauded the district's decision to forgo online testing.

"It is disappointing that once again we find ourselves in a situation where the testing company's system cannot handle the testing," board President Mark GiaQuinta said. "This reinforces the error in using one exam as the sole data point for all accountability measures. Relying on one test just doesn't work."