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Schools face ISTEP+ problems for 2nd straight day

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School districts trying to administer Indiana's required standardized test encountered new problems Tuesday that forced the state to suspend testing for a second straight day.

The problems brought a hailstorm of complaints from parties affected by the glitches.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz ordered testing halted after schools in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Carmel, Lafayette and other areas reported issues accessing the online portion of the ISTEP+ exam. The directive came a day after 27,000 students struggled to connect and complete the test.

Ritz said the issues were "unacceptable" and pledged that the Department of Education would work with schools to ensure they have enough time to administer the test once the problems are corrected.

"All of our students deserve to take a test that is valid, accurate and reliable," she said in a statement.

The Indiana State Teachers Association said fixing the problem was critical.

"ISTA demands assurances that this fire/misfire, fire/misfire, fire/misfire testing scenario be addressed and fixed immediately," it said in a prepared statement. "Under recent changes in state law, ISTEP no longer represents just student proficiency at a given point in time, but now drives school grades, individual teacher evaluations and, in a significant way, a teacher's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."

Some school officials expressed concerns about how the problems would impact students' scores.

"I have major questions now with the validity of ISTEP results. We will not get an accurate picture of how well students are doing," Rocky Killion, superintendent of West Lafayette Community Schools, told the Journal & Courier.

This is the third straight year that students in grades three through eight taking the online portion of the exam have encountered problems, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Vendor CBT/McGraw-Hill LLC had initially reported all testing systems were running fine Tuesday. But it changed its status as students began logging in and connection problems arose, urging schools to suspend testing until 12:30 p.m.

Ritz said about 150,000 test sessions were completed by 11 a.m. but interruptions spiked a short time later.

Indianapolis Public Schools spokesman John Althardt said the problems were discouraging.

"There is so much buildup and expectation and anticipation about what the test means that any disruptions in the schedule and rhythm of testing for our students is frustrating for us," he said. "We feel we've done our best to prepare our students and schools and then when we're unable to conduct this testing, it's a source of frustration."

In 2011, up to 10,000 students statewide were logged off and some were unable to log back in for up to an hour while taking the test. The state invalidated 215 scores that year because they were lower than expected.

About 9,000 students were kicked offline during the test last year.

Carol Stream, Ill.-based McGraw-Hill administers the exam 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.

"The responsible party for these glitches, McGraw Hill, a corporation that makes millions of dollars from this state contract, needs to let Hoosiers know why the requisite pre-administration stress testing did not occur according to proper protocol," ISTA said in its statement. "McGraw has a history of having problems administering ISTEP, but this year the problem appears to be much more significant."

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