Like other Indiana schools, Elkhart seeing issues with ISTEP+ testing
Posted: 04/30/2013 at 11:00 am
By: Marlys Weaver-Stoesz
“For students it’s stressful, for teachers it’s stressful and for principals, of course, they want to fix everything,” but it’s out of their control, said Shawn Hannon, Elkhart’s director of student accounting and program evaluation.
The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) has increased the number of classes of students that must take the multiple choice section of ISTEP+ online each year. This year, Hannon said, school districts with the technological capacity must test all grades that take the Indiana Statewide Testing for Education Progress Plus (ISTEP+), which are students in grades three through eight, must take the multiple choice portion online.
Elkhart Community Schools, like several other area districts, had a two-hour fog delay Monday morning, the first day of the testing window for the multiple choice section of ISTEP+. That meant schools were already crunched for time, Hannon said.
Once they began testing, “almost immediately we were recognizing problems,” she said.
By midday, Elkhart administrators had instructed staff to halt testing.
“It was not functioning,” Hannon said.
Some students were not able to log on to the testing system, she explained. Then, some that did log on would answer a couple questions then get an alert on their screens saying that their computer was having difficulties. The computer would then take anywhere between 30 seconds and 30 minutes to move on to the next question, Hannon said. For some students, that happened multiple times.
The state suspended testing later Monday. The vendor administering the test, CBT/McGraw-Hill LLC reported Tuesday morning that testing systems were running fine and testing could resume, but later suspended testing again after schools encountered further issues, according to an article from the Associated Press.
“Our teachers were doing a great job. Our students were doing a great job ... It was out of their control,” she said.
It’s disruptive to the school day because students were planning on taking the test, but then weren’t able to.
Hannon compared it to when a person is planning to print off a document on a home computer, but then is frustrated when the printer doesn’t work for seemingly no reason.
“You sit there and you’re just baffled,” she said. “I would encourage people to think about how you feel (during those situations) and are you at your best.”
“We’re taking students who were ready and prepared and their printer isn’t working, figuratively,” she said.
Suspending testing, either at the school, district or state level, means that teachers also need to quickly re-arrange their plans for the day.
Elkhart’s teachers know how to handle students and provide unplanned classroom instruction, but “it adds to the level of stress,” Hannon said.
Hannon also pointed out that schools will need extra days to complete testing, but because the IDOE has added extra days to the ISTEP+ testing window, some students who will be taking the state’s algebra end-of-course assessment or Acuity diagnostic tests in May, will be taking those tests either back-to-back with ISTEP+ testing or with very few class days in between.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said in a statement Tuesday that suspending testing was a difficult decision, but one she made to reduce the number of disruptions to schools and because all “students deserve to take a test that is valid, accurate and reliable.”
“I am greatly disappointed to learn that Indiana schools had their ISTEP+ testing interrupted for a second consecutive day,” Ritz said. “Like all Hoosier parents, students and teachers, I find these interruptions frustrating and unacceptable.”
The Indiana State Teachers Association issued a statement demanding that CTB/McGraw-Hill explain to the public why proper “stress testing” did not go on prior to the administration of the test.
“Under recent changes in state law, ISTEP no longer represents just student proficiency at a given point in time, but now drives school grades, individual teacher evaluations and, in a significant way, a teacher’s compensation,” the statement says.
According to reporting from the Associated Press, McGraw-Hill, a company based in Carol Stream, Ill., administers ISTEP+ under a four-year, $95 million contract with the Indiana Department of Education. The contract runs through June 2014. The contract requires McGraw-Hill to provide “uninterrupted” computer availability every school day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the two weeks prior to each testing window, as well as for the entire testing window.
Hannon said that Ritz will likely send out an update early Wednesday morning about how to proceed with testing, but that each Elkhart school will decide what’s best for itself. Some schools may not test Wednesday to be sure the glitches are worked out and that is just fine, she said.
“We’ll continue doing our best,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.