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Tech test passed; ISTEP next up

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For the first time, nearly all of Indiana’s third- through eighth-grade students will be required to take a portion of the ISTEP exam online this year, and local technology directors think their schools are ready.

The Indiana Department of Education conducted a practice run of the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress exam last year, which enabled schools to see whether their computers had enough memory to support the exam’s software and whether they had enough bandwidth to stay connected to the Internet. About 300,000 eligible students — 65 percent — took the multiple choice portion of ISTEP online last year.

That technology test was partly in response to the 2011 ISTEP exam, when about 10,000 students across the state who were taking the test online, including students from Clark-Pleasant, Franklin and Greenwood schools, were kicked offline.

Last year’s test gave schools, including Clark-Pleasant and Franklin, a look at which of their computers needed upgrades months in advance of the test. Because of those fixes, most of the machines at those schools are prepared for the multiple choice portion of this year’s exam, which happens at the end of April, technology directors Jim White and Matt Sprout said.

So even though both school districts will be testing more students online this year — Clark-Pleasant will use about 1,200 computers to test all of its students — preparing for the exam shouldn’t be a difficult task, they said.

“Even though we’re testing more students, it’s not near as time-consuming, from a technology standpoint,” White said.

Last winter Clark-Pleasant’s technology department found that all their computers worked, but they didn’t have the memory needed to run the ISTEP testing software. That meant technology employees had to go through nearly all the computers at the elementary schools and update the memory, White said.

But now that work is behind them, and this year’s practice exam confirmed that the upgrades are working, White said.

Last year more than 1,500 public, private and charter schools participated in a test to ensure all of the computers students would use to take the multiple choice portion of ISTEP were functioning properly. The Indiana Department of Education had schools use their computers specifically between 10 a.m. and noon because that is when most schools test students.

Those peak hours are what caused problems for schools during the online portion of the 2011 exam.

About 980 schools participated in this year’s test, including Clark-Pleasant and Franklin schools, and few had any problems connecting to the Internet or running the software, department press secretary Daniel Altman said.

And the department isn’t worried about any connectivity issues or software problems delaying the test.

“We feel confident about where we are,” Altman said.

This year’s practice run, conducted between Jan. 14 and 25, didn’t require schools to test their computers and software at the same time, Altman said. Individual schools were able to test their equipment on their own time. He said requiring all schools across the state to participate in a test within a two-hour window would have placed too much stress on schools.

“We didn’t want to impose that additional burden on them,” Altman said.

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