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Computer woes halt ISTEP

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GREENFIELD — County schools Monday had to suspend ISTEP testing after the state’s computer system experienced technical difficulties and crashed during the first day of the high-stakes tests.

“This was a statewide problem and not just a Greenfield-Central issue,” G-C Assistant Super-intendent Ann Vail said. “The testing company kind of had to put up a red flag and say the system was really not functioning.” Southern Hancock and Mt. Vernon students also were affected.

Officials with the Indiana Department of Education said the technical issue occurred through its vendor CTB McGraw-Hill, which specializes in the online statewide test.

“Problems happen with technology,” said David Glavin, DOE’s director of communications.

This was the first year in which all third- through eighth-graders in the state were required to take the test online if school districts had the technology format to accommodate them. This week marks the second round of ISTEP. Students completed the first phase of the exam in March.

DOE officials said the issue, described as a technical hitch causing the system to freeze up, affected about 27,000 students around the state, but was expected to be fixed in time for testing to resume today. Still, it was a frustrating time for students and teachers who have been preparing for months to take the online test.

“We were a little bit concerned because of the number of students hitting the system all at once,” said Rhonda Peterson, curriculum director at Southern  Hancock schools. “I don’t know how they could not have anticipated the load.”

Southern Hancock officials did all they could to make sure their computer system could handle an estimated 250 students taking the test at once, including expanding bandwidth capacity and forbidding video streaming during the testing periods.

Peterson called for all testing to be halted after the system kept stalling early Monday morning. The Associated Press reported that computer screens in schools throughout the state were freezing for up to five minutes at a time and that students were forced to log back in to their computers repeatedly.

“The anxiety is already high for the students because so much is at stake, and this didn’t make it any easier,” Peterson said. 

Mt. Vernon technical director Barb Campbell was beside herself when the problems developed.

“It’s so frustrating,” she said.

Over spring break, Campbell installed the McGraw-Hill program on 700 computers and then added an update to each computer on April 19.

“That update was supposed to take care of any freezing issues,” she said.

She, too, felt badly for students and teachers who had geared themselves to start testing on Monday.

“It’s like taking the pencil out of their hands,” Campbell said.

Students at Eastern Hancock avoided the issue because the corporation as a rule doesn’t engage in major tests on Mondays.

“It’s because of this exact type of issue that we do not test on Monday,” Eastern Hancock Elementary School Principal Amanda Pyle said.

Peterson said she was hopeful DOE would allow students who started the test on Monday to start over rather than pick up where they were forced off. However, DOE officials said they do not know if that will happen.

“I can’t make a statement on that,” Galvin said.

School districts have eight days to schedule time for ISTEP testing in the spring. Glavin said it normally takes only four days to finish all testing, so despite the issue, schools should able to complete the test.

The Associated Press contributed this story.

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