The state's schools superintendent said she was not involved at all in the hiring of a testing company whose technical problems disrupted online tests for more than 9,000 students last month.
“I had zero involvement in the entire process from start to finish personally,” Janet Barresi said.
The CTB/McGraw-Hill Education online testing system faltered April 29 and 30, forcing students to wait for hours or have to give up on exams, some of which are required for graduation.
The company was hired after the state Education Department switched from another problematic testing company. McGraw was selected by Education Department staffers after a lengthy review process, Barresi said.
But Barresi said she stepped in when the testing system went down.
The punishment for McGraw hasn't been determined yet. Barresi said one option is for the company to provide teacher training and curriculum development.
One thing that is planned, Barresi said, is a study to see whether the disruption affected student scores overall.
McGraw spokesman Daniel Sieger said the problem wasn't so much that the computer servers crashed. It was more an issue of how the servers were configured. The team at McGraw worked during the week of the testing issues to keep the system going, and on the weekend worked through the night to do major updates.
“By the time testing came back on Monday, the system was in much better shape than when the whole thing began,” Sieger said. “Fortunately, the rest of the testing has gone well.”
Indiana's school system saw testing issues at the same time. Indiana was testing a much larger group of students, with more than 150,000 testing sessions completed before the testing server issues began that Tuesday.
“They're doing the largest, most ambitious simultaneous online testing in the country at this point,” Sieger said.
McGraw and state Education Department officials have been in discussions with the U.S. Department of Education about what will happen next, including whether the company will be fined, he said.
“To the best of my knowledge, nothing has been settled yet,” Sieger said. “We've really just been focusing on making sure that the testing got done properly. Those conversations about the next steps — those will happen.”
Sieger said as far as he knew, the contract with Oklahoma was still in place.
“This is brave-new-world stuff here — the world of online testing and doing all these simultaneous tests. It's really challenging work, and unfortunately, there are going to be some hiccups,” he said.
“Every testing company is doing this on a scale that hasn't been done before. We're all making mistakes, we're all learning from it, and in the end, the kids and the teachers will benefit because there's a lot of advantages to doing online testing. But there's no doubt the industry is going through some growing pains.”
In the past 10 years, Oklahoma has used five testing companies, ending contracts with companies either because the state was dissatisfied or could find a better price for a bid.
In 2004, Harcourt Assessments Inc. printed the incorrect answers to sample questions on state tests for Oklahoma eighth-graders, eliciting an apology from the company.
In 2001, Riverside Publishing was fired in Oklahoma for significant delays in student test results.
In 1997, Harcourt Publishing sent the wrong writing exams to 80,000 Oklahoma students in eighth and 11th grades.
Before McGraw, the state had three testing contracts with Pearson Education, a global education services company. Pearson had handled Oklahoma's end-of-instruction high school exams since 2007.
But in 2011, Barresi announced that Pearson had made data calculation errors.
This year, McGraw wasn't the only testing company to falter during Oklahoma's testing season. Pearson experienced testing difficulties that affected portfolio assessments. Portfolios are used in lieu of tests for profoundly disabled students.
Contributing: Staff Writer Jaclyn Cosgrove
This is brave-new-world stuff here — the world of online testing and doing all these simultaneous tests. ... We're all making mistakes, we're all learning from it, and in the end, the kids and the teachers will benefit because there's a lot of advantages to doing online testing.”
CTB/McGraw-Hill Education spokesman