If this year’s online ISTEP exam goes as well as a recent pretest, then the anxiety over last year’s disastrous round of online testing might finally start to fade.
Technology departments at Franklin and Clark-Pleasant schools have been working since winter break to set up labs and prepare all of the computers, laptops, tablets and other devices students will use to take the multiple choice portion of ISTEP.
Between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Tuesday, every public and private school in the state that uses ISTEP was required to sign on to testing servers as parents, students and other volunteers answered practice ISTEP questions online.
The answers to the questions didn’t matter. What’s important is for schools to know that all of the computers students will use to take the online portions of ISTEP can connect to the Internet and have all of the necessary software.
At Franklin, a few of the computers tested briefly slowed down during the pretest, but those problems quickly resolved themselves. No major problems were reported, technology director Matt Sprout said.
“If the testing last year went as well as the stress test this year, then it would have been a good year of testing,” Sprout said.
The Indiana Department of Education also needs to know testing servers can handle the number of students being tested simultaneously. And this time the department needs to be sure about the results.
Making the grade
Here are additional details about this week’s online ISTEP pretest:
Who takes it: Schools can use volunteers, including parents, students or employees
What’s on it: 33 questions from previous third and fourth grade ISTEP exams
How long will it take: The testing window is an hour; the actual test should take schools about 30 minutes
What devices can students use for ISTEP: PCs, laptops and iPads
Testing windows for ISTEP:
The applied, paper and pencil portion: March 3 to 12
The multiple choice, online portion: April 28 to May 9
This isn’t the first time for the state to conduct an online ISTEP pretest — they ran similar tests in 2012 and 2013.
But last year’s pretest was conducted during a two-week testing window, schools didn’t have to test their computers during a specified time and 980 schools — less than half in the state — participated.
When it was time for students to take the online exam, 29 percent of the roughly 495,000 Indiana students tested were knocked offline or had their screens freeze during the online exam, including 1,700, or 14 percent, of the 12,000 Johnson County students tested.
That’s because the department of education and CTB/McGraw-Hill, the company that created and administers ISTEP, weren’t prepared for the number of students who would be tested across the state at the same time.
School officials are hopeful this week’s pretest will confirm that schools’ computers and the state’s testing servers are ready for ISTEP, and give schools and the department of education time to make any needed repairs.
But it might not be possible to forecast how the online test will go until students take it, Sprout and Clark-Pleasant director of curriculum and instruction Cameron Rains said.
“The bottom line is, until testing day hits, it’s hard to know whether we’ll experience any issues,” Rains said.
Rains’ concern is that schools are limited in what they can do to prepare for the standardized test. Mandatory exams such as ISTEP have to be given under specific sets of circumstances and conditions, and any changes to the testing preparations or conditions have to come from the department of education — otherwise students’ scores could be invalidated, Rains said.
That means Clark-Pleasant can’t do much other than ensure the 1,000 computers the school district’s students will use for ISTEP can connect to the Internet and have all of the software needed, Rains said.
The ISTEP pretest doesn’t ease any of Rains’ anxiety, as the state was confident it was ready for ISTEP after last year’s winter pretest. What he wants is for the department of education and for CTB/McGraw-Hill to have twice the amount of server space that they think they’ll need. That would decrease the likelihood of more disruptions this year, Rains said.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.
At Franklin, Sprout is more confident this year’s test will show the state whether they have enough memory to conduct ISTEP, as every school is required to test all of their computers or devices, and the testing is happening during one hour on one day.
If the department of education finds the servers don’t have enough memory for all of the students who will be tested, they’ll have more than two months to fix the problem, Sprout said.
“The years they have done this amount of testing, and focused it in this manner, we’ve been successful,” Sprout said.