Have a story idea?Contact Journal-World education reporter Elliot Hughes: email@example.com
Topeka — As students throughout Kansas continue taking their state reading and math assessments this week, officials at Kansas University say they believe they have fixed most of the problems that have plagued the new online testing system since it was launched last month.
But Marianne Perie, co-director of KU's Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, which designed the new system, said she is not sure if the results from this year's test will be of any value to schools or state officials next year when they try to assess how well students are doing.
"It's a huge issue and we won't have an answer until we have a chance to look at the data," Perie told the Kansas State Board of Education on Tuesday. "I don't want teachers focusing on something the kids missed because the computer screwed up."
State board member Jim McNiece, R-Wichita, said he has already heard from school officials who say they're concerned that when the data is made public in the fall, it won't accurately reflect how well students are actually doing.
This year, Kansas schools are not only using the new reading and math tests that are aligned to the Common Core standards, they are also using a new online testing system known as KITE - the Kansas Interactive Testing Engine. Both are being developed by CETE.
But when the state's official "testing window" opened in early March, problems showed up immediately. At first, the system wasn't able to handle the large number of users who were logged into the system at once.
There were also problems with some of the new "technology enhanced" items because graphic images or audio files did not always appear. And in some cases, Perie said, the system would kick students off and lock them out after they had already started the test.
Most of those problems were resolved within one or two days, and some were resolved in just a few hours, she said.
But the most serious problems occurred from March 27 through April 1, when the system was targeted by two separate "distributed denial of service" attacks. Those involve an outside source bombarding the system's servers with data, preventing legitimate users from gaining access.
Perie said after the second attack, which was 100 times worse than the first, CETE contracted with an outside security company to block the attacks. But officials would not talk specifically about the kinds of security measures being used.
As of Tuesday morning, she said, tests seemed to be going as they should be, although the system was running unusually slowly due to large traffic volume. About 147,000 tests had been completed by Tuesday, Perie said, or about 25 percent of the total number expected.
Perie said CETE officials will conduct a security audit of the system this summer, after this year's tests are over, to identify long-term solutions to the problems encountered this year.