Kentucky to resume online student testing Monday after computer glitches addressed

May 2, 2013 

Kentucky high schools will be able to resume online end-of-course testing on Monday after computer glitches and capacity problems were resolved with the state's exam provider ACT Inc.

Required testing was temporarily stopped in Kentucky and some other states as vendors' online test systems became overloaded and unable to deliver or process all or portions of some students' tests.

In Kentucky, performance on tests helps determine high school students' course grades; the test score makes up about 15 percent of the grade.

After discussions with ACT Thursday afternoon, Kentucky Education Department leaders decided to restart testing Monday because ACT has added capacity, spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said. In addition, ACT will mail all school districts paper copies of tests as backups in case problems persist.

The department was developing testing recommendations to distribute to schools to help ensure demand on the online testing system is spread out over time, Rodriguez said. Those schools where students were unable to complete tests will get help from the Education Department.

Before the technical troubles occurred, use of the testing system was expected to increase Monday anyway as more schools started allowing students to participate, Rodriguez said.

In Fayette, two high schools — Tates Creek and Dunbar, along with the Locust Trace and Learning Center programs — haven't completed the tests; three have, said spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall.

Kentucky Associate Commissioner Ken Draut said it wasn't clear how many students were affected by the glitches. The education department starting hearing of problems Monday. By Tuesday, the problem had spread and the testing system was shut down. About 25 districts contacted the department this week.

In one school, he said, all but 20 of the 200 students were able to complete the tests — including English II, algebra II, biology and U.S. history — before the system went down. But in another school, no one finished. Results varied by school and when schools tried to access the online tests.

About 65 percent of Kentucky high schools were administering online tests this year, compared to 35 percent last year, Draut said.

The problems affected only high schools, he said. Tests start soon for grades 3 through 8, but those exams are all on paper for now.

Alabama and about 50 or 60 districts in Ohio that also use ACT have resumed online testing, and the system had been able to meet the need. That experience brings hope that Kentucky will have a smooth experience, Draut said.

ACT wasn't the only vendor having computer problems this week.

CTB/McGraw-Hill is the contractor in Indiana and Oklahoma and administers statewide standardized tests in eight other states, and American Institutes for Research, or AIR, is the contractor in Minnesota. All have had problems.

"There's been pep rallies and spirit weeks all getting ready for this. It's like showing up for the big game, and then the basketball is deflated," said Jason Zook, a fifth-grade teacher at Brown Intermediate Center in South Bend, Ind.

Many frustrated students have been reduced to tears, and administrators are boiling over, calling the problems "disastrous" and "unacceptable" at a time when test results count so heavily toward schools' ratings under the federal No Child Left Behind law. In Indiana, where former Gov. Mitch Daniels approved changes tying teachers' merit pay to student test scores, the pressure is even greater.

"Teachers are extremely frustrated because of the high-stakes nature of this test," said Jeff Sherrill, principal at Emmons Elementary School in Mishawaka, Ind. "They know they're going to be judged on this and their schools are going to be judged on this. Certainly it's changed the outcome of the testing, because there's no way it's not going to."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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