Computer problems ‘frustrating’ students taking English tests across New York

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, Albany Bureau ChiefPublished 1:41 p.m. ET April 11, 2018

ALBANY — Some students taking multiple-choice exams on computers had all the possible answers show up as “system error.”

Other schools couldn’t log into the exams at all Wednesday morning, while others reported having students’ work lost when the system crashed.

The state Education Department said Wednesday that some school districts offering computer-based standardized tests experienced problems administering the exams.

Schools were urged to delay the testing to later in the day or to another day.

The problems, the state said, were due to various glitches from Questar Assessment Inc., the Minnesota-based company that provides computer-based testing to New York schools.

“Questar has been working to resolve this as quickly as possible,” the state Education Department said in a statement.

“We have been in constant contact with schools and reminded them that there is flexibility built into the test schedule.”

More: State exams in schools are starting: What to know this year

More than 1 million students are eligible to take the English exams that were initially developed under the Common Core standards.

What happened?

Nearly 300 districts this year agreed to offer at least some of the exams by computer to students in grades 3-8, up from about 184 districts last year.

The computer tests started Tuesday on English, while paper exams started Wednesday. The math tests are next month.

About 32,000 students in New York took the computer-based exams on Tuesday with few problems, the state Education Department said.

But the problems were pronounced Wednesday, and the state’s teachers union pounced.

The New York State United Teachers union said it has long warned the state about being cautious in switching to computer testing.

The union, which has also fought using the exams to evaluate teachers and students, urged the state Education Department in January to slow plans after Questar said it experienced a data breach last year.

The problems also come amid ongoing opt-outs by students at the request of their parents to not take the exams over issues with the standardized tests.

About 20 percent of students have opted out of the exams in recent years. The tests do not count toward the performance of students and teachers, the state said.

“Parents and teachers and students, they have lost trust and confidence in this system and when things like this happen, it doesn’t help matters any,” Jolene DiBrango, executive vice president for NYSUT, said.

Problems found

In Yonkers, for example, the entire district this year switched to computer testing for the standardized exams.

Students dealt with the “system failure” issue on questions, lost notes they had typed into the exams and couldn’t log into the system on Wednesday morning, said Samantha Rosado-Ciriello, the district’s union president.

“It’s very disappointing,” she said.

“While we are preparing the students to be college and career ready in order to function in a 21st-century society, we need to do it while not frustrating them.”

The district said the system worked well Tuesday but had glitches Wednesday. There are about 12,000 students in grades 3 through 8 in Yonkers eligible to take the tests.

“Yonkers experienced similar issues that occurred around the state,” the district said in a statement.

“We have been working collaboratively throughout the day with SED and Questar to address the concerns.”

There was no immediate comment Wednesday from Questar, which in 2015 landed a five-year, $44 million contract to develop state testing.

Questar took over for Pearson, the London-based testing giant, that faced criticism for its Common Core tests.

Testing continues

The state Education Department stressed that districts have flexibility in giving the exams, saying they can simply offer them another day.

“At their discretion, schools are able to postpone this morning’s testing and resume testing later today or on another day,” the department said.

That is what happened in some districts.

In Ithaca, 10 schools planned to give the tests by computer Wednesday, and some of the schools were unable to give the exams because of problems with Questar’s system, said Lynn VanDeWeert, the district’s evaluation officer.

“In instances where this occurred, students resumed their typical instructional schedules and activities,” she said.

“Impacted buildings have rescheduled today’s exams for another day within the nine-day administration window as allowed for” the Education Department.

Spencerport schools in the Rochester suburbs had planned Wednesday to give the tests by computer to students in grades 3 through 6.

But as sixth grades were taking the tests, the computer system failed at around 9 a.m., disrupting the work.

The system was back up within an hour and the testing resumed, but it was delayed for a day for students in grades 3 through 5 and a few students in sixth grade had to start their tests over.

“Originally, it was making sure the students were ok and trying to communicate with state ED on what we were experiencing,” said district spokeswoman Lanette Cypher.

“But the kids, from what I understand, were fine.”


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