Technology fails again for students taking Oklahoma state tests

State testing for about 2,000 Oklahoma students came to a halt Monday because of a server malfunction. A similar problem happened Tuesday, frustrating educators across the state.
BY JACLYN COSGROVE and CARRIE COPPERNOLL Modified: April 30, 2013 at 8:09 pm •  Published: April 30, 2013


photo - These computer testing stations are set up in the gym at Edmond North High School in Edmond, OK, Tuesday, April 30, 2013. Students who were supposed to take tests today cannot use the computers because the server crashed, so now the computers sit unused. By Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman
These computer testing stations are set up in the gym at Edmond North High School in Edmond, OK, Tuesday, April 30, 2013. Students who were supposed to take tests today cannot use the computers because the server crashed, so now the computers sit unused. By Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman

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.”



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