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ISTEP problem may affect Cannelton City Schools

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Students used paper versions; officials question fairness

By KEVIN KOELLING

Managing Editor

CANNELTON – Cannelton school officials said Monday they didn’t experience the same problems many other districts did last week with Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress exams, but fear they may suffer some consequences from those issues. 

“We did ours by paper,” Schools Superintendent Al Sibbitt told the News about the ISTEP tests, meaning Cannelton students escaped the frustration many others around the state experienced when they tried to take the ISTEP online.

ABC television station WRTV in Indianapolis reported Sunday the one-hour test period stretched to two hours the preceding Monday at Loper Elementary School. Students weren’t allowed to leave to go to the bathroom and their lunch was delayed an hour. “Many educators have reported students in tears as computers froze or logged them off repeatedly during the exam,” the station also reported, “and that frustration has many school officials wondering whether the results will accurately reflect students’ knowledge.”

Testing stretched in Tuesday, then Wednesday as the access and connectivity problems continued, according to numerous media reports.

Computer servers maintained by test provider CTB McGraw Hill were unable to handle the volume of students. 

“Prior to the start of this year’s testing,” company officials said in a statement released April 30, “CTB conducted performance and load testing on our systems to simulate live-school assessment scenarios. However, our simulations did not fully anticipate the patterns of live student testing, and as a result, our system configuration experienced service interruptions that impacted the testing process. We have adjusted the system settings and increased hardware to improve performance, and we are working with the Indiana Department of Education to consider test schedule changes to allow adequate time for the assessments.” 

The state Education Department issued a statement the following day asking schools to reduce their daily testing load by approximately 50 percent.

The Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal reported Saturday Glenda Ritz, state superintendent of public instruction, said she may bring in a third party to review testing scores after the problem-plagued week.

Cannelton students didn’t take the tests online because the city school system doesn’t have the equipment in place to handle it, Sibbitt said. 

In seeking last year to tap an extracurricular student-activity fund to purchase a computer server, the superintendent mentioned online ISTEP testing as one need it would fulfill.

“If we don’t have the server, we don’t have any computers and we can’t do the ISTEP test online and we can’t do payroll or anything else,” he said at an April 19, 2012 board meeting.

 “We didn’t have everything ready to go, but we’ll have it by next year,” he explained Monday, adding that he’s concerned the students who did experience problems this year may have gained an unfair advantage.

“I don’t know how they’re going to be able to compare the (scores of those who) did it on computer, because the ones that did it on computer had already seen part of the test, and they took it over,” he said. “It’s a mess.”

Academic Dean Dan Freed also told the News Monday “we did paper and pencil (testing) and we’re probably glad we did because of all the other problems people are having.” All of the testing of Cannelton students had been completed, he said before also expressing doubts about other students starting, stopping and resuming testing. 

“We don’t know if they’ll invalidate our tests or invalidate the ones people took online,” he said, “but it’s definitely not fair, because those kids had access to those questions three or four times and our kids only had it once.”