Schools adjust for longer testing time

Herald Staff Writer

Dubois County schools were cautiously approaching a third day of ISTEP-Plus this morning after enduring two days of computer problems that left students, teachers and test coordinators frustrated.

Administrators also were finagling their schools’ test schedules to make up for testing time lost Monday and Tuesday and to accommodate a request from the Indiana Department of Education to scale back the number of students they planned to administer the test to each day.

“It’s been a pretty rough week so far,” Tenth Street School Principal Kent Taylor said this morning. “You don’t know what to expect from one minute to the next.”

Students in grades three through eight are taking the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus tests online, and across the state they have been having trouble finishing the exams because of computer problems. Testing contractor CTB McGraw-Hill, based in Carol Stream, Ill., thought the problem was fixed by Monday afternoon, but by midmorning Tuesday, students were being locked out of their tests again.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz suspended testing early Tuesday afternoon, calling the testing problems “unacceptable.”

Tuesday evening, Ritz sent school districts a notice requesting that they decrease their daily test load by 50 percent. Early this morning she sent out another notice to alert districts that testing would be available by 7:30 a.m.

Local administrators were reporting this morning that testing was going smoothly.

“Right now, we’re somewhat on schedule,” Southridge Middle School Principal Al Mihajlovits said.
His school is administering tests for one-half of the school day. That means it will take seven days to finish the testing — “if we don’t have any more problems,” he said.  “Right now, we’re at the mercy of CTB and what happens on their end with their server loads.”

Taylor said the problems in the last two days have greatly affected the school’s testing schedule.
“We are at least a full day behind on our assessments,” he said. “Going at half capacity today, that is going to get worse.”

The problems have caused him and his staff to constantly rearrange that schedule, which they spent three weeks planning.

“Right now, there is no regular school schedule,” he said. “Because of the demands for (computer) lab space, we had to create a whole new schedule. Now we’re trying to adjust that on the fly. It’s not easy.”

He is hoping that the school will finish testing next week. The state is allowing schools to continue into a third week, through May 15, if needed, but Taylor hopes his school doesn’t need the extra time.

“If we bleed over into the third week, it will affect planned field trips,” Taylor said, “and we don’t want to do that. That’s why we’re fighting like thunder to finish in these two weeks.”

Ferdinand Elementary School Principal Lee Begle said that his original plan was to have testing completed by Friday. But testing will have to continue next week, he said this morning.

“We’re trying to make it work, but it’s frustrating for everyone,” he said. “The longer it goes, the greater the possibility that students will do poorer. You know, they get fired up to do this and then they’re told that they’re not going to do it at that time. It’s a letdown.”

Begle said he is trying to keep the atmosphere as calm and as normal as possible for the students.
“We let them go to their special classes (art and music). They go to their recesses and lunch,” he said. “But we have to make sure that all students in a grade complete a session before they meet up with their classmates. It’s kind of hard to do with all the disruptions and shutdowns.”

Keeping the students calm and focused is the administrators’ priority.

“Students, in general, are more resilient than adults are,” Mihajlovits said. “My biggest concern is for the kids who already have a tough time focusing. To be testing and then lose that focus when they’re kicked off (the online testing system) has to be hard on them. And then to pull them back into testing mode if and when they can get back on is difficult.”

Considering the heavy emphasis put on the ISTEP-Plus test in the state just adds another level of stress on students and staff, principals said.

“The kids knew when the test was going to be and were ready for it. Now, they just want to finish it,” Cedar Crest Intermediate School Principal Mark Jahn said this morning. “They want to do it; they want to take it and get it done. But they understand that it’s beyond our control.”

Because of the ongoing problems Tuesday, Northeast Dubois School Corp. officials decided to postpone the start of testing to Thursday. The school population is small enough it can start testing later and still have time to finish, district curriculum and assessment coordinator Kathy Klawitter said Tuesday.

“We want to monitor what happens,” she said. “We’re hoping that the problems are taken care of and that the glitches are gone by the time we start. When our kids do take the test, we want it be under the least amount of stress as possible.”

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