Thousands of local students began taking ISTEP online this week, and at most schools, lagging, frozen or blank screens were not a problem.
But school officials worry about the rest of the week, as more students statewide take the test, and whether that could lead to widespread problems, including servers becoming bogged down and slower response times like students experienced in practice testing last week.
Greenwood, Clark-Pleasant, Center Grove and Franklin all began the online exam Monday, which tests third- through eighth-graders on math, English and science. On the first day of testing, students were able to connect to the state exam without any significant problems, Franklin technology director Matt Sprout said.
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That was a relief to local schools, but officials remain concerned about how the next three weeks will go — especially as more and more Hoosier students take the test at the same time.
Last week, more than 191,000 students were able to take the test at once, according to the Indiana Department of Education. But with about 495,000 students needing to take the exam before the testing window closes May 15, the servers will need to accommodate more students over the next three weeks.
School officials were concerned about what would happen once testing began after experiencing multiple problems during practice testing last week. Computers froze, screens locked up so students could not answer questions, and others were forced to skip a question if the right screen did not appear. Those issues led at least one school district, Franklin, to delay starting testing until this week.
Union Elementary School students were supposed to start the exam Thursday, and then about two hours before testing began, Principal Sandra Brown was told to halt the test. Students were mentally prepared to take the exam last week, she said, so she was nervous they wouldn’t be in the right mindset by waiting a few days.
So far, students have shown that they understand the importance of the ISTEP exam, Brown said.
“I think they know that it’s here, it’s important, and they did their best,” she said. “We gave a pep talk, and they were all working really hard and checking their work.”
Although Franklin school officials were dealing with glitches and working with the state to decide how and when testing would be done, students did not know that there were any issues, Needham Elementary School Principal Kent Pettet said. Teachers, parents and officials stressed over ISTEP, but educators never let that stress get to the students, he said.
Five of the seven Franklin schools began testing Monday, with only one minor issue arising, Sprout said. Special education students use a tool called screen readers, which reads sentences of the exam out loud to the test taker. Instead of reading the sentences immediately, students had to wait up to one minute to hear the sentence read aloud, Sprout said. The issue impacted only a handful of students and did not affect one particular school, he said.
Indian Creek schools, which won’t start the online exam until Thursday, are waiting for a fix to the screen readers. About 20 percent of the 120 special education students have had issues with their screen readers, test coordinator Brian Boehnlein said. Until that issue is addressed, about 25 special education students could be unable to take the exam, he said.
The school is running additional tests during the next few days, he added, and he said he hopes the ISTEP testing company will provide a solution.
Although no major issues came up during the first day of testing, school officials are prepared for issues later this week, partly out of habit from past years.
Needham Elementary School third- and fourth-graders started the first section of the ISTEP online exam Monday, but more schools statewide — including two more Franklin schools — will start today. With more students trying to connect to the system, that could cause technical issues, Pettet said.
Students also could face issues the later testing is during the day, Greenwood assistant superintendent Rick Ahlgrim said.
Most schools opt to take the exam in the morning, when students’ minds are freshest, Ahlgrim said. At Greenwood, the first group of students taking ISTEP Monday started at 8:45 a.m., but other schools throughout the state might have waited until 10 a.m. to start testing, he said.
Typically, the most issues come up between 10 and 11 a.m. on statewide testing days, Greenwood director of technology Rebecca Rinehart said.