The Woodward News

May 2, 2013

Test disruptions lead to frustration, questions

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Computer problems with recent online testing have led to a lot of frustrations at schools across Oklahoma, including in Woodward.

Officials with the Woodward Public School District said that on Monday and Tuesday around 170 to 180 students each day were affected by disruptions in access to state mandated online tests.

"What the students experienced in the testing application that they use is a little pop up screen that simply says 'please wait,'" District Technology Coordinator Bryan Stephenson said. "Sometimes those stay up for just a few minutes, sometimes it's 15 or 20 minutes and sometimes its 45 minutes or more."

District Testing Coordinator Susan Viles said she was told that the longest disruption occurred when "at one point all the computers in the middle school labs were completely shut down for an hour and a half."

In addition to the long delays, some students were experiencing multiple disruptions.

"A testing session that on average may last about an hour and a half has extended itself to 3- and 4-hour, very exhausting events in which it (the testing application) may come up for a bit and then it's down, then it's up and then it's down again," Stephenson said.

Viles said she knows of at least one student who "spent 6 hours in that testing environment" because of all the disruptions.

"It was a long day," she said.

And the problems couldn't have come at a worse time for some students.

Viles said that on Monday there were 77 high school students taking their End Of Instruction (EOI) exam in Algebra 1.  This is an important test, she said, because it is one of 2 EOI tests that every high school student is required to pass in order to graduate.

At the middle school, she said 103 8th graders were taking their reading test on Monday, which she said was a "very important" test because students "are required to pass this test in order to get their driver's license."

On Tuesday the disruptions came as around 66 high schoolers were taking their Biology 1 EOI exam and approximately 100 8th graders were taking a math exam, Viles said.

In addition to just making for long test days for the students, the disruptions have created other "side effects."

"The bad side effect on this is that it really does mess up the continuity of the student and it plays through the psychological aspect of a student working through the test and raises frustration levels," Stephenson said.  "That obviously does not put students in the most conducive testing environment."





ISSUE WAS "ON THE VENDOR'S END"

As for what caused the disruptions, Woodward School District officials said one thing is clear it wasn't on the school district's end.

"The breaks in the testing process have been on the far end, on the vendor's end," Stephenson said, noting that the vendor is testing company CTB/McGraw Hill.

Throughout the online testing process, he said he is always "monitoring our bandwidth and our connectivity to the outside world."

"And we remain smooth and continuous, totally unbroken in our communications with the outside world.  It just drops off at the far end, at their end," he said.

However, Stephenson said he's not exactly sure what CTB/McGraw Hill's technical issue was.

"We're only given what they tell us and they have made references several times to some server issues," he said, noting "that's as detailed as they got."

According to several online news reports, Indiana schools were also experiencing problems with CTB/McGraw Hill testing applications on Monday and Tuesday as well.

Viles said she believes that Indiana's testing combined with Oklahoma's may have somehow "overloaded the McGraw Hill servers."

"We were doing online testing prior to this and we didn't have a problem until Monday.  And Monday and Tuesday is when Indiana started testing too," she said.



CONTINUING PROBLEMS

By Wednesday the computer issues seemed to have been somewhat resolved, with both Stephenson and Viles noting that testing was going well.

"Today's been smooth," Viles said during a phone interview with The News around 4 p.m. Wednesday.

However, the previous disruptions have already caused continuing problems for the district.

For example, the district had scheduled 2 testing sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, for both Monday and Tuesday.

But Viles said "we were unable to test in the afternoons because it took so long to complete the morning sessions."

Those testing sessions will now have to be reset, she said.

"We have had to completely revamp our testing schedule," she said.

Since it was such a widespread problem across the state, both Viles and Stephenson said the State Department of Education has granted a 2-day extension to the previously set testing window.

Testing for 3rd through 8th grades was originally supposed to be completed by this Friday, May 3, Viles said.  But now schools have until Tuesday, May 7 to complete those grade level tests, she said.

For the high school EOI exams, the deadline was originally May 10 and now schools have until May 14 to complete testing, she said.

But it isn't as simple as setting a new time for the testing.  Both Stephenson and Viles said there are a lot of logistics that go into scheduling test days from finding test monitors to finding places to put the students who can't access the computer classes as the labs are being used for testing.

Beyond the scheduling issues for the schools, the disruptions in Monday's and Tuesday's testing have aroused questions over the validity of students' scores on those tests and whether retesting should be conducted.

Superintendent Tim Merchant said that as of late Wednesday afternoon school officials were still gathering data and waiting for guidance from the State Department of Education as to how to proceed.

"We understand the frustrations of the students, we understand the frustrations of the parents and the frustrations of the teachers.  And we're taking all concerns forward with the State Department as we try to work something out," Merchant said.