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Glitch interrupts computer-based ELA test in some NY schools

State Education Department says Questar Assessment Inc. had a problem with delivery of the electronic exam on Wednesday morning.

Third-grade students at Charles E. Walters Elementary School

Third-grade students at Charles E. Walters Elementary School in Yaphank take the state English Language Arts computer-based exam on March 30, 2017. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Test-refusal advocates and the state’s largest teachers union were up in arms Wednesday after a technical glitch caused delays for some students taking the state English Language Arts exams on computers.

“It just reinforces our decision to not allow our kids to participate as we hear about these issues,” said Jeanette Deutermann, a Bellmore parent of two and founder of the Long Island Opt Out network.

In 263 districts statewide giving the computer-based tests on Wednesday, some students had interruptions, including difficulty logging in and connecting to the network, as a result of technical issues experienced by the vendor Questar Assessment Inc., according to the state Education Department and school administrators.

Students in some districts lost notes as a result of the malfunction, according to published reports.

Of the nearly dozen districts on Long Island administering the computer-based tests Wednesday, several said they were affected by the glitch, but officials told Newsday the complications were minor.

In Sayville, where 167 middle school students were taking the computer-based test, the program slowed and students were kicked offline, said Christine Criscione, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

When the buttons changed color, showing that the student was no longer online, staff made sure to tell them to save their work and to submit it as soon as they were back online, Criscione said. Questar also sent regular updates so the district knew what was happening, she said.

“Even though it was slow going, we were able to complete the work,” she said. “The kids were champs. They thought it was no big deal because they’re used to the technology.”

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.

A handful of systems on the Island — such as Fishers Island, Franklin Square, Islip, Merrick, West Islip and Westhampton Beach — began computer-based testing Tuesday. Five districts, including Northport-East Northport, Massapequa, Remsenburg-Speonk, Sayville and Tuckahoe, began testing on Wednesday.

Massapequa schools sent a letter to parents Wednesday advising them of the technical difficulties. “Clearly, this was not an ideal situation for our students who were testing,” district officials said in the letter.

And officials in Franklin Square said Questar representatives will visit the district Thursday to try to fix the problem. They didn’t elaborate.

More than 49,900 students statewide completed computer-based ELA assessments Wednesday, the Education Department said. The vast majority of students statewide are taking the traditional paper-based exams this week.

Education Department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis, in a statement, said, “At their discretion, schools were able to postpone this morning’s testing and resumed testing this afternoon or on another day. Testing will continue. We will provide as much flexibility as possible to districts to administer tests on subsequent days.”

Questar did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.

The technical difficulty this year, the second in which the state has offered the electronic exams, was another strike against the Minnesota-based testing firm.

Jolene DiBrango, executive vice president of New York State United Teachers, said the organization has “real concerns” about the validity of test scores after the glitch. The union is urging the state to slow implementation of the computer-based exams.

In January, an unauthorized user accessed the personal information of 31 Nassau students and 21 others statewide who had taken the computer-based exam administered by Questar last spring. The Education Department demanded an independent security audit and a corrective action plan from Questar.

Also in the 2017 test 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.

Christian Arsenault, principal of the Fishers Island School, said the delays Wednesday had little impact on the 10 students in grades three through five who took the exam on the computer. The tiny district plans to switch entirely to computer-based testing.

“There was great communication from the folks running the platform,” he said. “If you asked the kids if anything happened, many of them would not have even realized there was an issue.”

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