State testing glitch impacts Mustang students

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By Traci Chapman/Ray Dyer

Some Mustang students were among about 6,000 across Oklahoma impacted by a glitch that brought state testing to a grinding halt Monday.

The exact number of Mustang students impacted was not known, but some reported issues with tests that caused the online exam to “short-out.” In the case of some students, that meant a test taken except for a few questions, “disappeared,” they said.

Sixth- through eighth-grade students, as well as high schoolers taking end of instruction exams were impacted by the problem, which affected online tests administered by the state through vendor DTB/McGraw Hill, said Tricia Pemberton, Oklahoma Department of Education assistant director of communications. State officials suspended online testing for the day, and on Tuesday, some districts had begun the process to restart those exams, although it was unknown what the status of testing in Mustang was.

Mustang district officials did not answer questions concerning the number of students in the district affected or when those individuals might retake the tests.

“We have suspended testing until we learn more about the issues,” Mustang Superintendent Sean McDaniel stated via email Monday.

Third-grade reading tests, also conducted Monday, were not affected because they were not computerized, Pemberton said. Online tests impacted were: grade 6 – reading and mathematics; grade 7 – reading, mathematics and geography; grade 8 – reading and mathematics; and End-of-Instruction assessments.

It is the second year in a row CTB’s online assessments caused issues for students taking exams. State officials declined to speculate why state Superintendent Janet Barresi chose to utilize the company again this year, after those issues. They said they did not believe the problem “would impact individual students’ scores.”

While Mustang officials did not have much to say about Monday’s issues, one area superintendent said he was “livid” about the repeat CTB issues, and he disagreed with state officials’ assertions the glitch wouldn’t impact test scores.

“It’s exactly what happened last year,” El Reno Superintendent Craig McVay said. “The very same thing.”

McVay said the district suspended testing after computers continuously “kicked” students off the test site. The problem apparently occurred with software used by the state Department of Education.

CTB/McGraw-Hill, the vendor contracted to supply the software, took responsibility for the failure. The state Department of Education reported the system was up and working properly by 11 a.m., but for McVay and other districts in the state, it was too late.

McVay was upset by the developments, saying the computer failures simply add more stress to students who are already in a stressful situation.

“This happened to our AP students,” McVay said. “They are our best students and they take these tests very seriously.” He said one student was sent home, the stress apparently causing her to become nauseous.

McVay has said he is not a fan of mandated testing. A few weeks ago, he told an El Reno Chamber of Commerce gathering the nation has had enormous accomplishments prior to the dawn of mandated tests that are more and more becoming an education hot button. In his earlier remarks, McVay pointed to two world wars won by the United States, as well as overcoming a great Depression, and putting a man on the moon as some of the notable achievements prior to mandated testing.

“I’m a huge fan of knowing, did our kids learn anything,” McVay said. He said he is not in favor of testing the younger children because of the anxiety it creates in them. Oklahoma now requires children to pass a third-grade reading test before they can be moved on to the fourth grade.

“We gather data like crazy on every child,” McVay said. “I want to know if they can read after the first grade.” He said the data helps to know where a child is progressing and where he isn’t. It also helps teachers have “an honest conversation with every parent.”

McVay called the emphasis being placed on “high stakes tests out of control.”