Kentucky students might have to use pencil, paper for ACT Inc. test

Lexington Herald-Leader

Kentucky high school students taking required end-of-course tests this year have two options: take them at a time that won't crash the online system or do them the old way, using pencil and paper.

Those limitations for testing stem from glitches that have not been resolved with Kentucky's online system for required high school end-of-course tests, according to Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.

Issues with the system surfaced in May, when an estimated 1,600 students had to retake the end-of-course assessment or needed more time to finish it. Many other students had to take the assessment with pencil and paper, said Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez.

As a result, the commissioner asked the vendor, ACT Inc., to run a practice or "stress" test this month to make sure the system could handle about 20,000 Kentucky students.

The vendor was supposed to install software and make hardware fixes to improve the online system, said Rodriguez. But Holliday canceled that practice test recently when officials with ACT Inc. told the department they would not be able to correct the issues by the November practice date or in time for the end-of-course tests in the spring.

"Without a new system up and running, the stress test was not worth conducting," Rod riguez said.

Kentucky's online system can handle about 10,000 students at a time. The state and ACT will have a scheduling system so the online system won't be overwhelmed, according to Rodriguez.

"We're still concerned about it," said Holliday. "So we are moving forward" with a process that could help find another vendor.

Department officials want to see the different testing programs that exist nationwide at the high school level to make an informed decision, Rodriguez said.

Holliday said the state would look for a new vendor for the 2014-15 school year for the end-of-course test. The new vendor would be used for ACT Explore, a high school readiness test that Kentucky eighth-graders take, and for ACT Plan, a college readiness test taken by 10th-graders.

However, Holliday said ACT Inc. could submit a bid that would be reviewed by a committee that makes a recommendation to the department's procurement staff.

Rodriguez said — and Ed Colby, a spokesman for the Iowa-based ACT Inc. confirmed — that ACT was working to prioritize and upgrade the end-of-course testing to handle 100 percent of its contract with Kentucky and other states. ACT's goal is to have the system successfully running by spring 2015.

"We believe the use of ACT programs has greatly benefitted Kentucky students and educators. We feel it is appropriate to respectfully defer comment on business decisions around the state's contract with ACT to the Kentucky Department of Education," said Colby.

Holliday said problems were not related to The ACT, a college readiness assessment test that people often associate with ACT Inc., just the end-of-course testing.

Education Department officials have found that students statewide whose tests were interrupted did not experience a delay in receiving their final grades in May. Additionally, the department's staff studied the potential effect of the testing interruption on student achievement results and found students who were interrupted during testing did not score systematically higher or lower than students tested under standard conditions, Rodriguez said.

ACT Inc. is trying to get Kentucky test results for the paper and pencil version in a matter of days so the scores could be used in students' final grades, said Holliday.

Because of the online issues Kentucky educators encountered, the state won't have to pay ACT Inc. for parts of the $9.2 million contract. Negotiations between the state and ACT continue, and the total financial impact has not been determined, Rodriguez said.

Meanwhile, Michele Reynolds, director of curriculum and assessment for Fayette County Public Schools, said officials would be working with each school to develop a testing schedule.

"Since we have managed both online and paper-pencil testing in the past, and we have plenty of time to plan ahead for this testing season, this should not be a major issue for our schools," she said.

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