Exhausted exams 

Repeated server outages from online testing vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill resulted in disruptions of exams administered April 29-30. High school students had been taking high-stakes, taking end-of-instruction (EOI) exams required to earn a high school diploma. Tests taken by the middle schoolers are factored into the state Department of Education's A-F grading of schools.

In the wake of invalidated tests, state education officials extended the spring testing deadline for students.

Nevertheless, some state legislators want the Education Department to end its contract with the Monterey, Calif.-based CTB/McGraw-Hill and proceed with litigation against the company.

“These exams epitomize high-stakes testing,” said House Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Del City. “Too much hangs in the balance with these exams for them to be administered so poorly. CTB/McGraw-Hill’s negligence in their execution must be addressed.”

But Joel Robison, chief of staff for state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, said the first step must be finishing the assessments.

“We believe there may be a clause that allows for a 10-percent penalty to be assessed. We are discussing if the best way to receive that penalty is through a cash payment or for the vendor to provide, at no cost, supplemental curriculum materials for students and teachers to use next year,” he said.

“The best avenue right now is to get the damages we should and move forward working to assure, as best we can, the process will go smoother next year.”

In Oklahoma City Public Schools, the outages resulted in disruptions of 948 EOI tests and about 400 middle-school exams. Edmond Public Schools had 1,183 students impacted by the server failures, with about 300 others invalidated. Nearly 700 students in Norman Public Schools were affected, with 206 of them invalidated.

Out of nearly 800 students taking exams at Putnam City Schools, 85 tests were invalidated.

“Most of our kids did an exceptional job. They stayed with it; some were taking their test for three and a half hours or more,” said Bob Melton, the district’s test coordinator. “Our question is about the validity of the test, because it (the server) would come up and [students] would furiously try to answer some questions and then it would go down again.”

Yukon Public Schools fared better, recording only 16 invalidated EOI tests.

Rep. Scott Inman

But Kathy Davis, the district’s director of curriculum and assessment, echoed Melton's concerns that more scores might have been impacted.

“Although our students were able to eventually complete their test both mornings, many sat for up to an hour waiting on the computer to allow them to proceed,” she said. “One major concern is that when the students were able to resume, they hurriedly worked through the test to complete before the servers crashed again.”

Despite the problems, more than 600,000 tests were completed. Tricia Pemberton, an Education Department spokeswoman, noted that the two days of disruption occurred during a four-week testing window.

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