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School state testing interrupted, again, by online breakdowns

Contract with testing firm to be reviewed


The Nebraska State Board of Education has said it will look for a new direction in state testing after outages disrupted thousands of Nebraska students last month.

"On Thursday, some State Board of Education members expressed dismay and frustration when they learned that Nebraska students were once again shut out of their online writing tests – twice in late January and, on another occasion, lost access to online testing tools," a press release from the Nebraska Department of Education states.

The department's assessment director, Valorie Foy, told the board about the outages and said recent events make it a good time to take state testing in a new direction, according to the release.

"On Jan. 21, 325 students from 18 schools in six districts were affected during a 1 hour 47 minute partial state outage," the release states. "On Jan. 27, at least 1,488 students from 112 schools in 85 districts were affected by a statewide outage. And, on Jan. 28, about 5,340 students at 207 schools from 143 districts lost access to testing tools for 4 hours and 7 minutes."

Chris Arent, Sidney High School principal, said the outages affected about 25 percent of students taking the writing test at his school.

"It kicked our kids out, and they weren't able to continue in the system," he said.

The problem began in the morning, and students were finally able to log back on in the afternoon.

"It certainly creates anxiety on whether or not writing was saved," Arent said of the outages. "It also disrupts the thought process."

Statewide, Foy said, while no student work was lost, performance on the tests may have been affected.

"I was observing in a school district on Thursday morning, Jan. 21," she said. "Students who experience technology glitches have anxiety. Students are concerned that their work will be lost."

Data Recognition Corporation oversees the online testing in Nebraska.

"In 2012-13, the reliability of writing test scores at grades 8 and 11 was considered suspect," the release states. "Those scores were interpreted with caution because of technology problems. In 2013-14, no scores were released because, again, of technology issues. At that time, DRC assured the State Board of Education that the firm would take additional measures to assure no other problems would occur."

State Board President Rachel Wise of Oakland said to board will closely examine its contract with the online testing provider.

"It's time to explore a different direction," Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said in the release. "This pushes me over the top."


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