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Archive for Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lawrence school officials growing impatient with state tests

April 3, 2014, 2:16 p.m. Updated April 3, 2014, 4:06 p.m.

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Lawrence school officials reported continuing problems Thursday in administering state reading and math tests to students, and Superintendent Rick Doll has told principals that they may cancel further testing if the problems continue.

That word came as testing resumed two days after the Kansas State Department of Education suspended testing in the wake of cyberattacks against the new online system developed by Kansas University’s Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation.

Center officials, however, say the problems occurring in Lawrence and a small number of other districts are localized in nature. Marianne Perie, co-director of CETE, said she believes the center has put up enough security around its system to block any future attacks. She said the few districts that are still experiencing problems are being inadvertently blocked by the new security measures, a problem she said can be solved easily by working individually with those districts.

But Lawrence officials are now concerned that too much time has already been spent dealing with those problems.

“Although the assessment experience is valuable, the loss of instruction time due to the technical difficulties with the test is concerning,” Doll wrote in an email sent to district principals Wednesday night. “Out of respect for our students, staff and the Kansas State Department of Education, we are asking buildings to attempt the assessment one more time. If at that time, technical difficulties continue, we do not expect staff to reschedule the assessment.”

District spokeswoman Julie Boyle said schools were reporting only “sporadic success” in administering the tests Thursday.

“We’ve had a few issues regarding the protection mechanism that CETE now has in place following the (denial of service) attacks,” Boyle said in an email, citing reports from Terry McEwen, the district’s testing director. “CETE is working with us on this issue.”

Federal law requires schools to test students in reading and math each year to show whether student achievement is improving. The state also uses the test as part of its accountability system for accrediting schools.

But this year is being treated as a “transitional” year as the state shifts to testing under the new Common Core standards for reading and math, and it is tries out KU’s new, more sophisticated testing system that requires students to do more than answer multiple-choice tests.

That new Kansas Interactive Testing Engine, or KITE, which went online in February, a year ahead of the original schedule, got off to a bumpy start because it was initially unable to handle the volume of user traffic.

Those problems were quickly resolved. But late last week, officials reported it was the target of a cyberattack known as a “Distributed Denial of Service,” or DDoS, which again caused the system to break down, making it impossible for students to complete the tests.

CETE described that as a one-way system attack that directs more than 1,000 times the volume of legitimate traffic to a web server. The center said no student data was accessed or compromised as a result of the attack.

On Monday, Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker ordered testing to be suspended until Thursday in order to give KU time to fix the problem.

It was not immediately clear Thursday how many, if any, principals have made the decision to cancel further testing this year.

“The system is working better,” Boyle said via email. “We’re hopeful that we can get everyone tested. If, for example, a class had made several attempts to test, there may come a point with ongoing technical issues that they need not reschedule.”

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