Connection issues affect trial run of ISTEP+ online exam; company vows no repeat of 2013


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COLUMBUS, Indiana — Indiana's test run for its high-stakes ISTEP+ exam that was recently revamped to align with the state's new academic standards created headaches for teachers and students across the state.

Tuesday's trial was meant to ensure that local technology and ISTEP+ servers were working properly before 470,000 students take the online portion of the exam this spring.

But Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent John Quick said only 21 of more than 2,400 computers could load the practice test in his district while other students experienced multiple disconnections. Quick called the test a "dismal failure" and added that his district doesn't have faith in the ISTEP+ vendor, CTB/McGraw Hill.

"Learning is our product, and we would like to demonstrate that. We can't do that with continued failures like this," he told The Republic.

Tuesday's problems caused more than 450 students at Indian Creek Middle School in Franklin to waste an hour as they clicked on buttons for the practice test that failed to work properly.

Principal Sean Zachery told the Daily Journal his students used school-issue iPads to take the practice test because the state told the school its computers were too old to be used for that test.

Although the iPads connected with servers for the ISTEP+ test, he said the test questions began taking five minutes or longer to load, creating growing frustration for teachers upset that their students were losing valuable instructional time.

Central Middle School Principal Randy Gratz said the problems prevented more than 600 students at his Columbus school from completing the test run. He said the disconnection problems occurred both on hardwired computers in the school's computer labs and the school's wireless laptops.

CTB/McGraw Hill spokesman Brian Belardi said the company is confident the connection issues will be resolved before the test is administered to all students in Grades 3 to 8.

About 29 percent of Indiana students who took the test in 2013 experienced disruptions because the company's servers were unprepared for the large volume of students simultaneously online.

Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman said Tuesday's test helped CTB/McGraw-Hill determine the appropriate settings, including the maximum number of transactions needed per second within the system, as the company moves to a cloud-based system for the exam.

The ISTEP+ test has been revamped to align with new state academic standards adopted in April, a month after Indiana became the first state to pull out of the national Common Core standards.

ISTEP+ test scores are crucial to schools because they're used to calculate teacher pay and school funding, as well as school grades under the state's "A-F" system.

Information from: The Republic,

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