Volusia schools embroiled in testing fiasco

Computer difficulties cause halt at districts around the state

BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
DAYTONA TIMES

Standardized testing was set to start across the state on Monday but computer difficulties forced a suspension of the tests in Volusia County.

More than half of all districts in Florida faced those same problems.

Nancy Wait, spokesperson for Volusia County Schools, explained that the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) for Writing tests are administered to students in grades four through 10.  Those in grades four through seven take a paper-based test. Students in grades eight, nine and 10 are all computer based.

The computer-based tests are where all the trouble lies.

Deadline approaching
“We have a two-week window starting this week and ending on the 13th to finish the exam,” Wait told the Daytona Times. “Not all of our schools started on Monday but those that did ran into issues logging on or being kicked off after logging on so we made the decision to suspend testing on Tuesday.”

Wait says the problem with the testing was mainly the logon process. She says that the system was not able to handle all of the districts logging in at one time and that caused some test administrators to either not be able to log on, or logging on only to be kicked off. A small percentage of students were able to take their tests.

The state issued a statement on Tuesday that districts could start testing again.

“We monitored the state and districts on Tuesday; they were still having issues,” Wait continued.  “So we said our schools would start testing on Thursday. We hope that when we log on all the other districts will have taken the tests so we won’t run into those problems.”

According to Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart, the American Institutes for Research, the state’s testing vendor has taken full responsibility for the software-related problem and is working with the Department of Education to rectify the problems.

“I believe we are over testing our students and should end tests that are not relevant to student success,” Representative Dwayne Taylor (D-26) told the Daytona Times.

Validity of tests questioned
“I have heard from teachers that it certainly has been chaotic,” Andrew Spar, president of the Volusia Teachers Organization told the Times. He says testing difficulties have caused some teachers to question the validity of the tests as well.

“Teachers are always flexible so they are rolling with it, but it certainly underscores the issue with the computer-based testing. They plan on administering tests on a set schedule and then, of course, they weren’t able to administer those tests. Right now the only grades that were doing it online are eighth grade and high school, so that is where the biggest issue came from.”

“Further adding to the concerns that teachers have and I think a lot of parents have is how valid is this system? And how valid are these tests when we can’t even get the technology to work appropriately?” he asked. “And that is a statewide issue. Let alone the fact that we don’t really have enough computers to effectively manage the testing. It just kind of adds to the high stakes nature of these tests.”

Wait added about the test deadline, “We do still have all of next week. She feels confident that the district administrators will be able to administer the test to every student before the March 13 deadline and will attempt the test again on March 5. “It’s only a 90 minute test, and just one test,” she noted.

Wait also said if a student is at school but unable to take the test he or she will be able to make it up in April.

Legislators sound off
“Yesterday, the first day of testing under the new and untested Florida Standards assessment, was nothing less than a disaster for school districts and students across the state,” Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-27) and Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-39) wrote in a joint letter to Gov. Rick Scott on March 3. “We are calling on you to immediately suspend the administration of these tests and allow time for educators to work out the problems, instead of using our children as guinea pigs for a flawed system.”

“Hundreds of thousands of students were unable to take the tests due to technology issues yesterday, as district after district suspended the administration of the tests after being unable to access the system,” the letter continued.

“Worse, it was not as if this impending catastrophe came without warning. Superintendents, administrators, and teachers, as well as legislators, from across the state have continued to steadfastly declare that we, as a state, were not ready to handle this testing system. Their pleas were ignored by the Department of Education, which now claim that only a few thousand students were unable to test on March 2.

“This is such a terrible twisting of the truth as to be almost unbelievable. While only a few thousand students who were able to take the test may have been unable to complete it, hundreds of thousands of students in districts such as Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Leon and over 30 others were completely unable to access the system properly, resulting in total suspension of the testing in many, if not most, counties. Further thousands of hours of instructional time have been wasted.”

The FSA math and reading sections — many which are also online — are to be given starting in April.

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