New York state schools reported issues with computer-based reading assessments from Questar Assessment, Inc., this week, Chalkbeat reports. Similar issues were reported last year.
The issues were intermittent, according to the state, and arose when students were accessing and submitting the test, with some losing all of their work — though Chalkbeat reports that State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Questar said 86,500 of the 93,100 who began tests Tuesday were able to complete them.
Questar currently has a $44 million contract with New York through next year, and while the state has been slow to adopt computer-based testing, this issue could further delay the change. As of Thursday, however, 5th- and 8th-grade students have resumed testing.
Last year, several states reported problems with their computer-based testing systems. For example, Tennessee’s schools suffered problems with its testing system following an alleged cyberattack that turned out to be a combination of bugs in Questar's software and a slow text-to-speech tool. A cyberattack was also blamed for issues in Mississippi, New York, Missouri and South Dakota, according to EdScoop. Additionally, computer errors presented hurdles for Ohio's state assessments, as well.
Issues with digital state testing have been ongoing for over half a decade. For example, FairTest data showed 27 states had problems with computer-based testing between 2013 and 2015. These high-stakes tests have a lot riding on their results — especially when they're also used to evaluate teachers or entire schools.
While vendor-based software problems remain a major concern, the state of the school broadband infrastructure is an equally important factor. Networks in all districts expected to adopt computer-based exams must have enough bandwidth to handle all students using the system at the same time.
Before considering wide implementation of digital testing, an infrastructure initiative is key to determining capabilities. In many cases, schools will need some funding to get their systems up to speed — and the Federal Communications Commission's E-rate program can help with that. Before launching the tests, performing a dry run to make sure the system is up to the task can also help iron out any last-minute concerns.