Archive for Saturday, March 25, 2006

Computer slowdown causes testing concern

March 25, 2006

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Kansas school officials are concerned about the reliability of the scores of some of the 4,900 students who were taking tests online earlier this month when the computer system slowed to a crawl.

Of those students, 2,200 were taking the Kansas State Assessments and the rest were taking practice tests, which help teachers evaluate their students' strengths and weaknesses before the main test.

John Poggio, director for the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at Kansas University, where the Kansas assessment tests are developed and graded, said the slowdown lasted for less than a half hour on March 3.

An unknown number of students were dropped from the system, and other test takers were forced to wait an unusually lengthy time for the program to respond after they selected answers.

When the problems occurred, the center stopped additional students from beginning the tests, Poggio said. That frustrated some teachers who had planned their day's schedule around the tests and spent days prepping their students.

The state has revamped its tests, and this is the first year the new tests have been offered, which makes it difficult to immediately determine whether the slowdown had a detrimental affect on individual test takers.

"Clearly, some folks called and said, 'This was very stressful for my students and an underestimate of their performance,"' Poggio said. "We will certainly be reviewing any claims."

The state is testing student in seven grade levels in the subjects of reading and math. Each test contains three parts. If there are problems, the state may drop the section that students were taking during the slowdown and estimate performance on that section based on the other two parts of the tests, Poggio said.

Any potential problems are not expected to skew the state average.

Diane DeBacker, director of school improvement and accreditation for the state, said the state sent an e-mail to school district testing administrators this week. She said those students who were worried that the technical problems caused them to fare poorly on the test will be allowed to review their tests and make changes.

After the slowdown, four schools, which had planned to take the assessments electronically, requested pencil and paper tests, Poggio said.

Currently, about half of the students in the state take their tests online. The advantage of online testing is that results are available to teachers almost immediately.

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