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ISTEP testing smooth on Day 1

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After a year of concerns and practice runs, local students finished the first day of ISTEP testing without any problems.

But the real trial for ISTEP starts today, as more students in Johnson County and across Indiana try to complete the online exam at the same time.

Third- through eighth-grade students from Greenwood and Clark-Pleasant schools started taking the online, multiple-choice portion of ISTEP on Monday. All students at Greenwood were testing, assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim said. Some of the Clark-Pleasant students took the exam, while others took a practice test that shows students what to expect on the real test, director of curriculum and instruction Cameron Rains said.

“No major interruptions at this point,” Rains said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for good things.”

If fewer students take the online portion of ISTEP at once, then it’s easier for CTB/McGraw-Hill, which created and administers the test, to keep them connected to the exam. Indiana is about to see whether the testing company is prepared to handle several hundred thousand students taking the exam simultaneously.

Other school districts, including Franklin and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools, will start practice and actual online ISTEP testing Wednesday and later this week. By midweek, more than 495,000 Indiana students, including about 12,000 locally, will be taking the online portion of ISTEP. The hope is that students will be able to finish the test without being kicked offline or having their screens freeze.

Rains is hopeful — but not yet convinced — that students will be able to take ISTEP without disruptions.

“We’ll see how things go (today) and Wednesday,” Rains said.

The testing window for ISTEP runs through May 13. Schools can test students anytime between before then. School officials locally and across the state have been anxious about this year’s online ISTEP test since last year’s exam.

Last year was the first time about 95 percent of Indiana’s students took ISTEP testing online at the same time. Thousands of students across the state, including about 1,200 locally, couldn’t stay connected to the test or had their test just stop working. That meant some students spent several days taking portions of the test they should have been able to complete within an hour.

The problem was that CTB/McGraw-Hill didn’t have enough server space to handle all of the state’s students testing simultaneously.

Earlier this year, the Indiana Department of Education conducted a stress test to help ensure the same problem didn’t reoccur. Schools across the state were required to log on to the testing server to ensure that no one was knocked offline and that schools’ computers had all of the software needed for ISTEP.

No major problems were reported during the stress test. But some officials, including Rains, knew that was no indication that the actual ISTEP exam would go smoothly.

CTB/McGraw-Hill also conducts standardized testing in Oklahoma. Last week, that test had to be suspended for a day because of computer problems. On Friday, schools received an email from the department of education that said state officials were aware of the problems that had occurred in Oklahoma and were looking into them, Rains said.

ISTEP is used by the state to measure how many math and language arts lessons third- through eighth-grade students mastered during the school year. The exam’s results are used to determine the grades schools receive, and they also factor into teachers’ annual performance evaluations, which impact their pay.

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