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State education officials ask vendor to fix exam glitch

Students take a test electronically on March 30,

Students take a test electronically on March 30, 2017. Credit: Randee Daddona

The state Education Department is calling on Questar Assessment Inc., its exam vendor, to develop a corrective action plan after a technical glitch Wednesday interrupted testing for some students taking the statewide English Language Arts exams.

A security feature in the system “inadvertently activated,” causing delays for some students in the 263 districts statewide giving the computer-based tests Wednesday, Education Department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said in a statement Thursday.

As a result, some students had difficulty logging in and connecting to the network. Of the nearly dozen districts on Long Island administering the computer-based tests Wednesday, several said they were affected by the glitch, but officials said the complications were minor.

The delay lasted up to 10 minutes for some students before Questar resolved the issue, according to the department. The department said it could not provide the total number of students affected by the delay because the system did not capture login attempts.

More than 50,000 students completed the exam on computers Wednesday — the second day of computer-based testing this spring, according to the department. More than 51,600 students statewide took the exam using a computer Thursday.

DeSantis on Thursday said the department was requiring Questar to “perform a root-cause analysis and develop a corrective action plan to ensure a similar issue does not occur again.”

The Minnesota-based firm, in a statement Thursday morning, confirmed there was an issue with its “hosting vendor” affecting students in New York State.

“Immediate action was taken and the technology issue was resolved,” said Brad Baumgartner, Questar chief operating officer, in the emailed statement. “Questar is committed to a successful testing experience for all students.”

This is the second year in which the state has offered the electronic exams, and the second time the department has ordered Questar to develop a corrective action plan. The first was in January after an unauthorized user accessed the personal information of 31 Nassau students and 21 others statewide who had taken the computer-based test administered by Questar last spring. The Education Department at the time also called for an independent security audit.

And during the 2017 testing season, Questar administered the wrong exam to some students on the Island and across the state on the first day the computer-based ELA was given.

The Education Department said Thursday it would provide “as much flexibility as possible” for districts to administer computer-based tests.

Statewide, 616 districts, including 46 on Long Island, are offering computer-based ELA tests in some schools — and often only in some grades within schools. The Education Department had directed districts to give the computer-based test over two consecutive days from Tuesday through April 17.

The vast majority of students statewide are taking traditional paper-based exams this week.

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