ISTEP stress test called ‘complete disaster’

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 Indiana's embattled ISTEP+ test encountered more difficulties Thursday as computers froze during a stress test of the online portion of the exam.

Test administrator CTB/McGraw-Hill reported that "a number of schools" reported freezing issues during the test, which was designed to ensure that the system worked smoothly when the online portion of the standardized test is given to 470,000 Indiana students in the coming weeks.

Lafayette School Corp. Assistant Superintendent John Layton told the Journal & Courier that the system worked well for about 20 minutes before computers began freezing up.

West Lafayette Superintendent Rocky Killion said his district also encountered problems at Happy Hollow Elementary.

"It was a complete disaster," Killion said. "Kids did not get through it. Computers were freezing up. Everything was shutting down."

Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman told The Associated Press that Thursday's test went much better than one in January, when widespread problems were reported. He said the latest glitches were part of the normal process of ensuring that the system is ready to go before the online portions of the test are administered in April and May.

"It's why we do these now," he said.

Overloaded testing servers in 2013 caused 27,000 students to be kicked off their online ISTEP+. An independent reviewer determined that the disruptions had little effect on overall performance, but state Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz in August announced a $3 million settlement with CTB/McGraw-Hill.

Thursday's disruptions heightened an already-tense discussion of the test and how long students will need to complete it.

The test was revamped to align with Indiana's new academic standards, and its length has more than doubled from last year. Some students are expected to need more than 12 hours to complete both portions of the exam.

Gov. Mike Pence has hired two consultants to recommend ways to shorten the test. Ritz has called a special meeting of the State Board of Education for Friday to address the concerns.

Tippecanoe School Corp. Superintendent Scott Hanback told school board members this week that educators are frustrated.

"This has really taken its toll (on morale). The principals have done the best they can … to shield the kids from this, but when that panic sets in on the teacher's face and that fear of the unknown, kids are going to pick up on that," he said.

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