For the second day in a row, Oklahoma students taking state exams — some of them required for high school graduation — were booted out of online programs by a technology failure.
Tuesday morning, about 1,000 junior high and high school students were prevented from finishing the tests midway through when servers crashed, according to the state Education Department.
Students experienced a similar problem Monday when the company that administers state exams, CTB/McGraw-Hill, experienced server malfunctions while uploading student testing results.
State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi said she was outraged.
“This is especially disruptive for the children who have worked hard all year and now have the opportunity to let us know what they have achieved,” she said in a statement. “To be interrupted during testing is a very difficult and stressful environment for our children and educators.”
A McGraw-Hill representative did not return multiple phone calls and emails Tuesday.
The state Education Department is offering school districts other testing options, including paper tests.
The agency also is looking at giving districts more time to test students.
The crash Monday caused 2,000 middle school and high school students to stop testing, state schools Assistant Superintendent Maridyth McBee said. Tuesday, about 1,000 students were affected. The cause of the crash is unknown.
Many of the stalled tests were state-mandated end-of-instruction exams. Oklahoma high school students must pass at least four of the seven EOI tests to graduate.
A disruption of these high-stakes tests is especially concerning, said Glenda Choate, testing coordinator for Edmond Public Schools.
“The pressure is on those students,” Choate said. “There's so much riding on those tests. They need them to graduate.”
Edmond Public Schools canceled testing for Tuesday afternoon, Choate said, adding that administrators would rather postpone tests than risk poor testing conditions for students.
Students taking the Algebra I exam at John Marshall High School in northwest Oklahoma City were repeatedly interrupted, Principal Aspasia Carlson said.
“I just keep asking everyone to be patient and diligent and work through it,” Carlson said. “It's been a nightmare.”
A dozen testing sites were affected in Putnam City schools, testing coordinator Bob Melton said.
Test administrators tried to allow students to finish exams rather than invalidating them, which would force them to retake exams later.
Some 90-minute tests have turned into 2½-hour ordeals, Melton said. Students aren't allowed to talk or move around while waiting for their computers to reset.
“It's important these things be done as well as possible,” he said. “I know that nobody intends for these kinds of things to happen. It's unfortunate ... because there is so much importance placed on these tests.”
The test glitch presents an opportunity to discuss the purpose of high-stakes testing and whether these tests determine student and school effectiveness, said Chris Brewster, superintendent of Santa Fe South Charter Schools in Oklahoma City.
“I think standardized testing is extremely useful — I think accountability is critical,” Brewster said. “But the way that we overlay high-stakes testing to determine an individual student's ability or a school's veracity is deeply flawed.”
History of errors
Oklahoma has a history of dissatisfaction with testing companies, hiring and firing five testing companies over the past 10 years.
In the past, the state Education Department has cited companies delivering test results late and providing inaccurate data as reasons for ending contracts.
The servers that crashed are hosted in New Jersey by CTB/McGraw-Hill, a California-based company that provides testing services.
The company has two contracts for $16 million — $7.3 million for end-of-instruction tests that went into in effect in July and $8.9 million for tests of grades 3-8 that was approved in December.
Tricia Pemberton, spokeswoman for the state Education Department, said those contracts are both up at the end of June, when board members can re-evaluate whether they'll be renewed.
Pemberton said the testing servers were back up at noon Tuesday. The department didn't announce it because it was near the end of the school day and officials wanted to test the system first, she said.
Meanwhile, educators in Indiana faced similar problems with CTB/McGraw-Hill on Monday and Tuesday.
“I am greatly disappointed to learn that Indiana schools had their ISTEP+ testing interrupted for the second consecutive day,” Indiana schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz said in a statement. “Like all Hoosier parents, students and teachers, I find these interruptions frustrating and unacceptable.”