Ohio Schools Face Many Glitches with State’s New Online Tests

Pearson, the testing company that created the state’s new Common Core-aligned exams, has fielded roughly 9,600 phone calls, emails and chats from Ohio districts since testing started on Feb. 16.

by Charlie Boss, The Columbus Dispatch / March 16, 2015 0

(Tribune News Service) -- Ohio school officials expected to encounter glitches in the state’s new online tests.

Pearson, the testing company that created the state’s new Common Core-aligned English/language arts and math exams, has fielded roughly 9,600 phone calls, emails and chats from Ohio districts since testing started on Feb. 16.

Most of the queries — 86 percent — were related to problems with administering the test, including registering students, getting them into online test sessions and responding to test policies and procedures such as make-up testing.

There’s little comparison for those numbers, because this is the first year for the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) tests. Ohio is among the earliest administrators of the new assessment; 10 other states and Washington, D.C., also are giving the exams.

Some educators think the number of glitches actually is larger. District technology staffers often turned to one another instead of waiting for a response from a help line answered by the state and Pearson.

A glance at a statewide listserv for district technology staffers shows a variety of problems. Some students experienced long wait times before they could start a test. Some couldn’t log in at all. A handful were booted out of the test before they finished. Exams crashed on certain Web browsers. Some districts reported that Chromebook computers struggled to support some tests.

A couple of technology teams had problems adjusting their devices from the PARCC tests to the AIR (American Institute of Research) exams. PARCC tests cover English/language arts and math while AIR focuses on science and social studies. They use different programs to deliver their tests and feature different displays and tools.

Districts ultimately were able to resolve issues — but not without frustration.

“If you have a classroom with three to five technical issues and you may have to reset the device, that’s not closing it up and starting it back up again,” said Paul Ross, technology director at Bexley schools. “With some of those device issues, you have to reinstall the test application on the fly. We’re talking about a disruption occurring while testing.”

That has to be solved quickly, he said, or students will have to make up the test.

As of Friday, roughly 855,000 PARCC tests and more than 492,000 AIR tests were completed online.

Despite the technical glitches, several local educators say the shift to online testing went better than they expected.

The real test, however, will come when districts eventually administer all state assessments online.

Ohio schools had the option this year to give all, some or none of the exams online. Most local districts did an online/paper-pencil hybrid. Students at Dublin, Hamilton and Olentangy took the test only with paper and pencil.

Students in about 60 percent of the state’s school districts took some portion of the tests online this year, said John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.

Grandview Heights, Groveport Madison, Pickerington, Whitehall and Worthington rolled out all of the exams online.

The transition at Grandview Heights went seamlessly for students, thanks to nearly 1,000 hours of planning and preparation by staff members, said Jamie Lusher, the district’s chief academic officer. The district tested 780 students.

Still, they encountered unanticipated problems before administering the tests. Lusher said the state did not provide the district with testing slips — which contain information students need to log in and begin their exams — at the start of testing. Grandview had to make its own before the state finally created them.

And during the state testing window, which started on Feb. 16, PARCC’s website and test software language were either changed or updated, requiring educators to log in and out of every device in the district.

“We have spent more nights and weekends at school than we care to admit,” she said.

To prepare for the online tests, the Ohio Department of Education invited a third of all districts to participate in field testing last spring, which allowed teachers to get a glimpse of the new test and technology staff members to gauge which devices worked best with the online format.

More than 100 districts participated, but some school leaders argued that more districts should have been included.

The state also sponsored a “stress test” in January so that testing coordinators could check building bandwidths while logging on to the online testing system.

“With the first year with a new test and new systems in place, you are going to run into snags,” Charlton said.

To help districts, the state set up a help desk to solve technical problems, and state officials sent all testing directors information with solutions to problems that have arisen in other districts.

Bexley schools purposely delayed testing by a week so that any glitches found early would be resolved by the time the district’s students logged in for their exams, Ross said. Also, the district’s technology department spent more than 200 hours preparing devices and planning for administration of the tests. Only 332 high-school students took the exam online; the rest used paper and pencil.

Pickerington, which had about 8,000 students take the online tests, participated in field testing and discovered that iPads worked best with the PARCC and AIR exams. As a result, the district purchased 2,500 iPads over the summer to serve as the primary testing platform for students.

“Things went really well,” said Brian Seymour, director of instructional technology in Pickerington. “There was nothing that was an epic catastrophe.”

©2015 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC