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Overloaded Servers Delay Standardized Testing in Five States as Students Opt-Out, Protest Online

135306281_b5a1f76fab_oStandardized testing already has a reputation as being little more than a jobs program for ed tech companies which can’t actually measure how much a student is learning, so it should come as no surprise that parents, students, and even teachers are protesting the wast of resources.

Server outages this week brought a whole host of issues to light. Not only are the test poorly designed, they are also badly administered.

Multiple ed tech company have taken the paper intensive tests and moved them online. This reduced the overhead, but as we learned this week it also introduced a serious flaw.

Numerous reports are coming in this week that standardized testing had to be delayed in Colorado, Nevada, Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota. Apparently no one planned for the fact that all these students would be using the same limited number of servers to take their tests, nor did they have a backup plan ready for when the servers crashed under this entirely predictable workload.

The Las Vegas Sun reported this week that:

According to the Nevada Department of Education, a spike in students taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) this morning in Nevada, Montana and North Dakota exceeded the data capacity of Measured Progress, a third-party vendor contracted by the states to provide the test.

All testing in the three states has been stopped until Measured Progress can increase its data capacity, according to an email sent to state superintendents today by state deputy superintendent Steve Canavero.

Minnesota Public Radio and the Colorado Springs Gazette each reported similar problems in their states. This time around the testing was administered by Pearson, and to be fair apparently Pearson did have a plan in place to fix the problem.

Several Minnesota schools experienced problems with online statewide testing Tuesday.

A server malfunction at testing company Pearson prevented students and test administrators from logging into the system, according to state Department of Education spokesperson Josh Collins.

"Students who were already taking the test would not have likely experienced any issues — it would have prevented students from logging in to the environment this morning," Collins said.

In a memo sent to districts in Minnesota and several other states, Pearson said the problem is being fixed, and the system should be working at full capacity by Wednesday.

I can’t find any follow up news reports or notices on school websites saying that the problem persisted, so I assume that Pearson did fix the problem.

And that’s a good thing because the states are paying a huge chunk of your tax dollars to the ed tech companies. Minnesota, for example, is paying Pearson $38 million dollars to run the standardized tests over the next 3 years.

Ain’t standardized testing grand?

Not only do students lose class time which is wasted on test prep, not only are they stressed out by the pressure, but now they’re not even able to take the tests.

It’s no wonder that now we even have teachers recommending that students opt out of the standardized testing, and we have students protesting the tests by posting test questions online.

Remember the story last month about Pearson spying on students on twitter, and ratting them out for talking about a standardized test question?

Apparently I’m not the only one who is unhappy about it, because students have taken to posting the test questions to Facebook as an act of protest. This has also revealed serious problems with the tests:

While many thousands of parents have opted out, some students are engaging in civil disobedience by copying test questions and releasing them. I read one long and rambling passage written in what I imagine was cowboy slang. I won’t reproduce it because I don’t want to be sued by Pearson.

Teachers are reporting readability levels that are 2-4 grade levels above students’ age/grade. They are also reporting incomprehensible reading passages. A poem on the 6th grade test baffled students and teachers alike.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Ain’t standardized testing grand?

images  by PaulSteinJCalisdair

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Moriah Jovan April 17, 2015 um 1:30 pm

We are, apparently, the only people in our district to “opt out.” They do not know what to do with us except repeat, “Your children MUST take the test, per Missouri whatever.”

At that point, it becomes, “Make me.” We no longer view it as an opt-out. We view it as a command. “You SHALL NOT require our children to submit to this test.” With cites to back it up. That shocked them. I believe our paperwork is sitting in the district lawyer’s office.

Anyway, I find this hilarious.

Nate Hoffelder April 17, 2015 um 1:48 pm

I’m surprised to hear that. I’ve been following your rants about your kids' schools, and I would have expected most people to opt out of that idiocy.

Moriah Jovan April 18, 2015 um 2:01 pm

We are also shocked, and dismayed. We all compromised. Our children may not be feeling well on those days. If, poor kids, they aren’t, the crazy end-of-school stuff may interfere with them taking make-up tests.

BTW, New York state just dropped below the required 95% participation rate because of “boycotting,” which, I guess technically is what we’re doing. But NYS has led the way in this revolt (as I understand it).

Reader April 17, 2015 um 1:53 pm

The following anecdote will perhaps indicate that not all standardized testing is a total waste of time. I knew a high school senior who in the spring before his graduation had not yet passed the math portion of his state’s standardized exam. He was complaining to me that a college had admitted him with the stipulation that he needed to pass the math portion of his state’s standardized exam. He considered it unfair that if he didn’t pass this standardized math exam, that college would not admit him

This particular exam was set for 8th grade math. That is, this high school senior needed to pass an exam on 8th grade math standards. Fortunately, he finally passed the test.
But consider the possibility that he had NOT passed the test. Do you want someone attending college who doesn’t know decimals and fractions- which this particular student had problems in solving?

One idea behind standardized testing is to insure that students who have not mastered various parts of the curriculum – such as decimals and fractions- will have their non-mastery detected and then get additional instruction in order to be able to master them.

That being said, some of the recent changes in graduation requirements, such as 3-4 years of math, seem to me to be not necessary for everyone. I recall that the high school I attended, which had a disproportionate number of high SAT/Merit Scholarship scorers, required only a year of math at the time. About the lowest 15% of the class only took a year of math. These days, they would be required to take 3-4 years of math. As far as I can tell, those classmates of mine who took only one year of math still went on to lead productive lives. Such as the auto repair shop owner who makes much more money than I do.

Moriah Jovan April 18, 2015 um 1:58 pm

Ummmmm if he’s a senior, SOMEBODY should have caught that long before. Mine got caught because her grades tanked. In 6th grade. So instead of crediting the test, I’d come down hard on the parents and teachers.

That’s inexcusable.

Also? Not unusual.

Reader April 18, 2015 um 2:28 pm

That’s inexcusable. Also? Not unusual.

Indeed. I suspect that the reason this didn’t get caught earlier was that at the time, passing a standardized test was not necessary for being advanced to the next grade level. So, a student could flunk the standardized test and go onto the next grade. Unfortunately for the student, the same criteria didn’t apply when "the next grade level" turned out to be high school graduation.

At low-performing schools, administrators often "encourage" handing out passing grades to students, as they don’t want to field a lot of angry calls from parents. The irony here is that flunking grades often, if not usually, can serve as a wake-up call. I knew a math teacher at a minority, poverty level middle school who handed out flunking grades to a third of his students for the first marking period he taught there. Many principals of such schools would have very explicitly discouraged such a high flunk rate- but I don’t know if his principal did. Most of his flunking students responded appropriately to the wake-up call and worked themselves into passing the course. The teacher had a very successful but short career at the school. He left teaching for a more lucrative, less stressful career.

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