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SACS starts, stops online ISTEP+ test

2nd local district to report technical issues with vendor

– Southwest Allen County Schools is the latest local school district to halt ISTEP+ testing after technical issues disrupted student tests Tuesday.

SACS officials notified parents, teachers and students that the district had halted Tuesday’s testing and would postpone today’s testing until the issues could be resolved.

“One hundred percent of our elementary kids in grades three to five who were taking the ISTEP+ exam had negative experiences,” SACS Superintendent Steve Yager said Tuesday.

“All of our middle schools had concerns.”

Yager said officials at CTB/McGraw-Hill told him they had “too much traffic right now,” and he should “do the best you can.”

“We find that excuse to be unacceptable, and we continue to have a lack of confidence in CTB/McGraw-Hill and their ability to conduct this exam,” Yager said.

After connectivity issues began cropping up, Fort Wayne Community Schools officials announced Monday that the district would forgo plans to test students online this week and instead would await the arrival of paper tests.

Two other local districts – East Allen County Schools and Northwest Allen County Schools – said Tuesday they will continue testing as planned.

Hoosier 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 this week or next.

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.

Brian Belardi, McGraw-Hill Education spokesman, said he had heard concerns from some Indiana school districts, but most issues seem to be originating from the district level.

“I am aware of the situations, but am also aware that by and large, things are going pretty successfully,” Belardi said.

“We’ve had some issues here and there, but some of those issues are what we call local issues, problems on the district’s side of things.

“Some small number (of problems) would be related to our portion of the work.”

Belardi said overall, CTB/McGraw-Hill is “pretty pleased with how things are going, but not completely satisfied.”

But two CTB technicians who visited Fort Wayne schools last week after error messages were reported said it appeared the issue was on CTB’s end.

CTB officials contacted FWCS’ Haley and Harrison Hill elementary schools to say they saw error messages from the schools and sent two CTB technicians to Harrison Hill, said Jack Byrd, director of technology for the school district.

“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,” he said.

NACS students started the second section of the test Monday and have had some interruptions, Superintendent Chris Himsel said.

“It’s minimal compared to a year ago, but they are interruptions nonetheless,” he said.

Students sometimes have to wait 30 seconds or a minute for the answers to load, which CTB/McGraw-Hill officials said is expected and normal, but that creates issues when the tests are timed, Himsel said.

“When that happens multiple times during a testing session, and we have students who are a few sections short of finishing the test because time is limited, I don’t find it acceptable,” he said.

NACS will continue testing as planned, barring additional issues, Himsel said.

EACS students have not begun the second round of testing, but spokeswoman Tamyra Kelly said the district has not had any difficulties so far as students work through the practice tests.

jcrothers@jg.net

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