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Technical difficulties: Hundreds interrupted while taking ISTEP

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Clark-Pleasant director of technology Jim White in one of the school's computer labs Monday. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Clark-Pleasant director of technology Jim White in one of the school's computer labs Monday. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

Hundreds of Johnson County students were interrupted when they tried to take the annual ISTEP exam online Monday due to a technical problem with the company that conducts the test.

Third- through eighth-grade students at Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant, Franklin, Greenwood and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools were repeatedly knocked offline or had their computer screens freeze after testing was underway.

Some students were able to log back on and finish sections of the test but were continually interrupted by the connectivity problem, school officials said. Other students who couldn’t log back on couldn’t complete the sections.

The answers they did complete were saved, but they’ll have to finish the exam this week or next week.


Students who couldn’t complete an entire section of ISTEP had their scores saved and will have to complete the remaining section of the test before testing ends May 10.


Here is the statement CTB McGraw Hill, which conducts the ISTEP exam for the Indiana Department of Education, sent to schools on Monday:

We have observed and received several reports this morning regarding disruptions experienced by students while taking the ISTEP+ Online test.

Our immediate efforts to resolve the situation were not successful and our technology engineers are working diligently to isolate the source of the issues and make the necessary adjustments to return to a normal status as soon as possible.

If students are currently active in test sessions today and are able to continue, please have them continue testing.

If a student’s test is in the interrupted status, please make arrangements to resume testing when the difficulties are resolved. Student responses are stored on CTB’s servers and will be visible when students log back into the test session.

We will send you an updated communication when this situation is resolved, along with posting live updates on the www.ctb.com/istep portal and ISTEP+ Online forum.

We apologize for this inconvenience and assure you of our best efforts to resolve this as quickly as possible.

When the systems become available, please reschedule the testing sessions and have your students resume the test.

This is the first year the multiple-choice portion of ISTEP testing is being conducted entirely online, and principals are concerned about how the disruptions will affect students’ scores.

At Clark-Pleasant, for example, about 4,000 students will take ISTEP this year, and the scores those students earn will affect the evaluations their teachers receive, as well as the grades given to Clark-Pleasant’s schools. Constantly stopping and starting over isn’t helpful to students taking such a high-stakes test, Whiteland technology director Jim White said.

The ISTEP exam is the test used by the Indiana Department of Education to determine whether third- through eighth-graders have mastered skills in core subjects such as math and language arts.

Testing also was suspended Monday in Indianapolis, Carmel, West Lafayette and Brownsburg. Schools in Shelby and Tippecanoe counties also reported problems.

“It’s everywhere,” White said.

The problem was linked to the servers at CTB McGraw Hill, the company hired by the state to conduct the online exam. While officials didn’t know what exactly caused the problem, they expected ISTEP to be working normally by today, spokesman Brian Belardi said.

“We expect everything to be back up and running,” Belardi said. “Students will be able to pick up where they left off.”

But Center Grove Superintendent Richard Arkanoff and Franklin Superintendent David Clendening are worried about what will happen if the disruptions continue. If that happens, the department of education needs to expand the time schools are allowed to give the test to ensure all students can complete the exam, Arkanoff said.

The department of education may consider whether to allow testing to continue beyond May 10, spokesman Daniel Altman said.

“We are looking into it. We will obviously work with schools throughout the state to make sure students have the opportunity to take a fair test,” he said

At Clark-Pleasant, White is hopeful the department of education and CTB McGraw Hill will have found and fixed the problem.

“This is already a big enough black eye for them, I would like to think they’ll fix this by the second day of testing,” White said.

This isn’t the first time Indiana students have had problems taking ISTEP online. In 2011, about 10,000 students across the state, including students from Clark-Pleasant, Franklin and Greenwood schools, had similar issues.

The Indiana Department of Education conducted a practice test for schools last year to ensure the problem didn’t happen again, and no major issues were reported locally or across the state.

This year the department did another practice test, but it included fewer schools and didn’t test them simultaneously, which was largely the point of the 2012 test of equipment.

Now school officials are trying to figure out what Monday’s disruption means for the rest of the two-week testing cycle.

School districts don’t test all of their students simultaneously, partly because they don’t have enough computers or space to do so.

Instead, they typically take nearly all of the computers and create specific schedules with all of their third- through eighth-graders.

At Greenwood, 102 students who were unable to finish the exam will have to complete the exam this week or next week.

But that means the school district needs to find additional time to test those students before testing ends May 10, which is difficult because the schedule for the computer labs is nearly full, director of secondary education Rick Ahlgrim said.

“Our schedules on this ISTEP thing are wall-to-wall. So pushing these kids back is going to be a problem,” he said.

Last year, before 300,000 Indiana students took the online exam, the department of education had more than 1,500 public, private and charter schools participate in an online practice test.

The test for the schools was conducted between 10 a.m. and noon, when most schools typically test their students, and was meant to ensure thousands of students could take the test simultaneously without being knocked offline.

This year the department had 980 school districts, including Clark-Pleasant and Franklin, participate in the practice test.

But schools weren’t required to participate between 10 a.m. and noon — they could sign online anytime during the day or night.

Requiring schools to participate in a stress test during a two-hour window simultaneously would have placed too much stress on school officials, and the department of education was confident the online exam would run without any problems, spokesman Daniel Altman said in February.

Feeling the effects

On Monday, all of Indiana’s third- through eighth-grade students were supposed to start taking the multiple-choice portion of the ISTEP exam online, but students across the state had problems completing the exam because of server problems with CTB McGraw Hill, the company that conducts the exam. Local school districts affected were:

  • Center Grove
  • Clark-Pleasant (The intermediate school, the middle school, and all elementaries except Sawmill Woods were affected.)
  • Franklin (The intermediate school, middle school and all elementaries except Union were affected.)
  • Greenwood
  • Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson

Looking back

This isn’t the first time Indiana students have had problems with the online test:


Nearly 10,000 students across the state were kicked offline while trying to take the multiple choice portion of the exam.


The Indiana Department of Education conducts a dry run — a test meant to ensure that the problems experienced in 2011 didn’t recur. About 1,500 schools across Indiana participated in the practice test between 10 a.m. and noon specifically — this was intended to ensure that thousands of students could take the test simultaneously without problems.


The department of education conducts another practice test for schools. This time 980 schools participated, and schools are free to log on to test their equipment whenever they want. On Monday, the first day of testing, schools across the state report problems connecting to the online exam.

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