The CEO of the company responsible for the ISTEP exam promised Wednesday that there will be no interruptions next year. Ellen Haley of CTB/McGraw Hill addressed the State Board of Education and reported that improvements are being made to the servers that are used when ISTEP is administered online.
Those servers will, Haley said, be able to support twice the number of Indiana students taking ISTEP next year.
Haley told the Board of Education that a lack of memory caused the first day of interruptions in April and a lack of virtual memory caused problems the second day. 78,000 students had their test-taking postponed and, as a result, every student in Indiana and all of the schools are still waiting for this year’s scores.
“So, now we know the infrastructure that we need to put in place,” said Haley, “and that’s what we’re doing right now. We’ve brought in a third party and several experts from McGraw Hill themselves to look at everything.”
The interruptions have led to delays in the release of 2013 ISTEP scores and one teacher showed up to protest. “We need ISTEP information to inform placement decisions,” said Jason Sipe. “I need that information to make early interventions.”
State School Superintendent Glenda Ritz reported that her office is still negotiating with McGraw Hill over fines and penalties tied to the interruptions.
The typical interruption faced by thousands of students who took the ISTEP exam in April lasted one day. But for one student that interruption lasted 15 days. The Department of Education hired an outside expert to figure out the effects and in a report issued Monday he found that overall scores were not affected.
Dr. Richard Hill of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment did an extensive study of all of the ISTEP results both from students who endured interruptions and those who didn’t and he came to a simple conclusion. “It does appear looking at the data,” he said, “that the net impact of the interruptions was nil.”
That’s right. Despite interruptions caused by overloaded computer servers that affected 78,000 students statewide, ISTEP scores went up. Why? Hill has a theory. “An obstacle was thrown in the way of school people and students,” he said, “and they found a way to overcome it.”
But it’s not a case where state officials declare “no harm, no foul” because teacher evaluations are tied to the results and some students likely were affected. “Yes, the data turned out ok,” said State Superintendent Glenda Ritz. “Are we going to be able to drill down to the individual students to really know that if they hadn’t had those interruptions, would their scores be the same? The answer’s probably no.”
And that’s why the state is still looking for answers from the test maker, CTB/McGraw Hill. A company representative says its study is not yet complete. It is still negotiating with CTB/McGraw Hill to recover costs and fines. In the meantime, the company will be permitted to administer the test next year.
The Department of Education now plans to develop guidelines for handling computer interruptions in the future.
An independent review of ISTEP scores began Monday. It could lead to some tests being invalidated.
State school Superintendent Glenda Ritz just announced that a third party will review the test of every student who was interrupted by server problems in April and May. That applies to 78,000 students statewide.
Ritz says she hired the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment in New Hampshire led by Dr. Richard Hill to determine if test scores are valid. In all 482,000 students took the test, so a majority will likely be validated, but Ritz says the results need to be above reproach.
“Like all Hoosier parents students and educators I was extremely frustrated with the alarmingly large number of interruptions during the taking of Indiana’s high stakes test,” said Ritz. “These interruptions were simply unacceptable and they call into question the validity of the test scores.”
The review will cost as much as $53,000, money that could come from fines against test maker CTB McGraw Hill.
Glenda Ritz also says that she hopes this will lead to changes in the use of the ISTEP exam. She says the stakes involving teacher compensation and evaluation are too high.
State lawmakers want to know why computer problems interrupted the ISTEP exam and who is responsible. They ordered an investigation Thursday that will begin in mid-June with a day long hearing at the Statehouse. Both the test maker, CTB/McGraw Hill, and state education officials will be called on the carpet.
Computer problems first interrupted test taking for students in a variety of schools earlier this month and then forced school districts to reduce the number of students taking the test at one time by half. Lawmakers want CTB/McGraw Hill to explain.
“To come to Indianapolis and explain how the problems occurred,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, “why they weren’t prepared for those problems, what they’re doing about it to assure these problems don’t arise in the future.”
The announcement was made in a meeting of the Legislative Council, a group made up of leaders from both Houses and both parties in the General Assembly. State Education officials will also be questioned, as will school superintendents. House Speaker Brian Bosma said, “We need to get to the bottom of it.”
This was the first time that schools were encouraged to have students take the test online whenever possible and CTB/McGraw Hill is the main target of the probe. “And for a highly paid vendor to have this occur is totally unacceptable,” said Sen. Long. “The schools have a right to be upset about it.”
Lawmakers also hope to determine whether the test results are tainted by the interruptions that took place. The Fort Wayne schools have already decided that test results there won’t be used unless they can be verified by a third party.
There were no problems today in the administration of the ISTEP exam after testing was suspended due to computer problems on two consecutive days. Steps being taken to avoid new problems. First, the state Department of Education asked schools to reduce the number of students taking the test online by half. Then, the Indianapolis Public Schools told teachers stop giving the test between 10:30 and 1 o’clock, the peak time period statewide.
Employees of CTB McGraw Hill, the state contractor that supplies the ISTEP test, were on hand Wednesday in offices of the Department of Education monitoring the computer system that became overloaded on Monday and Tuesday. The problems caused members of the state Board of Education to question whether a contract has been violated and state School Superintendent Glenda Ritz emerged from a meeting to say it will be explored. “Certainly we’re gonna be looking at our contractual obligations, or their contractual obligations regarding that,” she said. “I haven’t really delved into that yet.”
Schools now have until May 15th to complete the testing but the request to have half the normal number of students online at once will remain in place. Ritz believes the contractor can help students make up for lost time. “They know every student, the name of the student, and who’s been interrupted,” she said.
The results are important not only to students but also to teachers and administrators who are all evaluated and sometimes compensated based on ISTEP results. “It is a very high stakes test in Indiana,” said Ritz, “and so we have to be very concerned about that and make sure that we can ascertain the validity of the actual student assessment.”
But, first, they must actually take the test. A spokesman for IPS says it will be a major challenge to have 14,000 students complete the test by May 15th. All of them will be on summer vacation, however, by the time this mess gets straightened out.