Archived Story

Austin, other school districts see state tests stall

Published 10:18am Friday, April 26, 2013

Austin students were among many in the state to experience technical problems while taking exams via the new statewide online proficiency testing system.

Nearly 50 districts had trouble with the testing system Tuesday, Charlene Briner, chief of staff of the Minnesota Department of Education, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

“It was obviously a frustrating experience for some students,” said John Alberts, educational services director with Austin Public Schools.

At Ellis Middle School, students took the electronic version of the test.

Ellis principle Jason Senne said the students had no problems finishing their assessments on the system, though they did face some delays.

“Questions came up on the screen a little bit slower,” said Jason Senne, Ellis principle.

The MCA test is not timed, so slow questions did not hinder students’ abilities to answer all the questions.

Several other districts in the state experienced long waits to receive test questions sent through the online portal. Problems hit harder about a week ago, however, when the state education department temporarily suspended MCA testing. The company paid to operate the system, the American Institutes for Research, had problems with servers that delayed or interrupted thousands of students’ tests.

Austin students taking the test at the time were able to finish it up the following day, Alberts said.

“The work they had been doing on the online assessment was saved,” he said. “Students could go right back on again and proceed where they left off.”

Though Austin High School had the option to take the online version of the test, the school stayed with the paper-and-pencil version this year and was not affected by any problems with AIR’s program, Alberts said.

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused Tuesday’s slowdown, but AIR representative Jon Cohen said it wasn’t a problem with the company’s computer system. It was also unclear how many students were affected this week.

“We are unwilling to speculate,” Briner said. “Whether it’s 8,000 students, 800 students or eight students, this kind of disruption and uncertainty is unacceptable.”

Alberts said the district received system performance updates during the testing issues, but he is not aware of what may have caused the issue.

Among the districts reporting difficulties were the state’s largest four: Anoka-Hennepin, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan.

The problem has officials questioning whether online testing is a good idea. The MCAs make up a large portion of how the state judges school performance. Students prepare for the tests all year and their scores can have wide-ranging impacts.

“As you can imagine, this creates great consternation in this high-stakes testing environment,” she said. “We are having serious discussions about it.”

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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