ISTEP stress test hit and miss

Students at all five Seymour elementary schools encountered issues during a one-hour practice ISTEP+ session Tuesday morning.

Other school corporations in the county also had issues, ranging from slow response times to computers freezing and skipping questions, during the mandatory practice session for the test, which will be administered in less than two months.

The goal of the trial run is to make sure all labs and any computers that would be used by districts for ISTEP+ testing were in use at the time, said Diane Altemeyer, who doubles as Seymour’s testing coordinator and principal at Cortland Elementary School.

Altemeyer said Seymour students didn’t have any error messages or issues with connectivity from 9 to 10 a.m. But at 10 a.m., when the trial run was supposed to begin, no one could log on and make any progress through any of the tests, she said.

All Seymour schools logged on at 1 p.m., and it worked flawlessly, she said.

During the hourlong session, schools around the state logged in to try the test and let the testing company, CTB/McGraw-Hill, know if its server could handle the volume without problems.

Daniel Altman, Indiana Department of Education spokesman, said the test achieved one of its main objectives — determining how settings needed to be configured to minimize problems during the actual ISTEP testing.

In a statement Wednesday, CTB/McGraw-Hill said it is taking steps to confirm and remedy any issues.

“CTB conducts statewide readiness tests annually to determine the ability of our systems to perform under the highest possible level of stress — a level that far exceeds the stress that will be put on the system during actual statewide testing,” the company wrote.

“While we regret the inconvenience caused by the issues experienced on Jan. 13, we are confident that the issues will be fully addressed to allow for a successful administration of the actual 2015 online tests in each state.”

In 2013, ISTEP testing was interrupted for hundreds of Jackson County students and thousands of students across the state who reported being kicked out of or locked out of their online testing sessions.

New with this year’s administration of ISTEP is using a cloud-based system, which means the questions and answers for the test are stored mostly online.

Brownstown Central Superintendent Greg Walker said students there had problems accessing the practice test.

Later after the practice session, Walker said a Brownstown fifth-grade classroom logged on, and it worked.

“We were ready with all of the new technology we have in place,” Walker said. “I’m just glad we do these things and we don’t wait until testing day and there is a problem on the other end.”

This will be the first year for Medora students to take a portion of the test online. In the past, they used paper and pencil for the test.

Medora Principal Chrystal Street said students have done assessments online before, but not ISTEP.

“I do worry when we start testing. You never know with technology,” Street said. “Paper and pencil, that’s pretty much a constant. But with the online, there always is some hesitancy in pushing forward.”

Street said logging into some computers for the practice test was a slow process.

But once she was logged in, she was able to take away some positives, including seeing the type of questions that might be on the test and sharing that with teachers as a guide.

Crothersville Community Schools lost connection, experienced major slowness and saw question-skipping during the stress test, said David Schill, principal of the junior-senior high school.

Other districts in the area experienced problems, too.

At Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., only 21 of 2,453 computers districtwide were able to load the ISTEP practice test successfully. The county’s other public school district, Flat Rock-Hawcreek, also couldn’t connect to the servers.

Greenwood and Franklin schools tested about 1,200 machines, and nearly all of them had trouble loading and answering the online practice questions.

In Brown County, no students were able to complete a practice test. A few of them completed 12 or 13 questions before screens started freezing.

Another practice session will be conducted Tuesday.

The Republic of Columbus, The Daily Journal of Johnson County and Brown County Democrat, all sister newspapers of The Tribune, contributed to this report.

At a glance

The Indiana Department of Education administers ISTEP+ to students in Grades 3 through 8 to measure achievement in English, math, science (Grades 4 and 6) and social studies (Grades 5 and 7).

The department plans to administer the ISTEP+ paper-and-pencil “Applied Skills” writing tests between March 2 and 11.

The online testing window for multiple-choice questions and technology-enhanced questions opens April 27 and goes through May 15.

Indiana students haven taken an online ISTEP exam for years, but this spring, the online test is changing to match Indiana’s new academic standards. Students will answer multiple-choice questions that could have more than one right answer. Other questions will have students copy and paste sections of essays they’ve read to support their answers to questions about what they’ve read.

Technology behind the test also is changing.

Previously, questions for the exam were contained in the ISTEP software that schools installed on their computers. But now, ISTEP is using cloud-based technology, meaning that the questions and answers for the test are stored mostly online.

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.