Leon Schools Suspend 8th Through 10th Grade Writing Exam As Problems Emerge

Mar 2, 2015

Credit educationews.org

  Update 3/3/15 9:50 a.m.:   The Florida Department of Education says it's testing administrator AIR has fixed most of the problems that caused statewide outages as students tried to take online writing exams.

Statement From Education Commissioner Pam Stewart:

The department worked with AIR throughout the day and into the evening yesterday to better understand the issues that affected online testing in Florida on Monday. AIR has determined that a software issue caused log-in issues, including delays and error messages for a number of districts. AIR reports that of the 69,177 tests that were started yesterday, 67,745 were successfully completed.

AIR and its hosting provider, Rackspace, have worked to ensure that service is restored to the servers that support the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA). Last night, AIR conducted an additional load test on the hardware that supports FSA and it showed improved performance after the software changes. AIR will continue to monitor server performance throughout the entire FSA testing window.

Districts may begin or resume testing as soon as they desire, and additional guidance will be provided to assessment coordinators shortly. ​

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New statewide standardized exams for fourth through 10th graders rolled out Monday, but problems are following fast on their heels. Several South Florida school districts report technical problems giving the new exams and that’s led Leon County’s Superintendent to suspend some of the tests indefinitely.

Jefferson, Leon and Wakulla County schools were slated to start administering the new state writing exam Tuesday.  In Leon County, only sixth and seventh graders will take the test, and that’s only because there’s a paper-and-pencil option. Leon Superintendent Jackie Pons says he’s suspending the 8th through 10th grade online-only writing exams because of the technical problems plaguing South Florida School Districts.

“I hope they get it worked out," Pons says. "But history has taught us one thing about these online tests. They’ve always been a problem.” 

In 2011 school districts reported problems administering online exams and it happened again last year under the old Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.  This year, students are taking the new Florida Standards Assessment, which aligns with the state's new Florida Standards. Critics know them better as Common Core.

Students in fourth through tenth grade were slated to take the exam statewide. Gadsden County Schools say they’ll start administering paper and pencil exams to fourth through seventh graders Tuesday.  The state says it ran simulations to prepare for the start of testing, but larger districts including Hillsboro and Miami Dade report problems logging on to the system, and server crashes. In a statement, Florida Department of Education Spokeswoman Megan Collins says, “While many students across our state are testing successfully, we have heard from some districts that are experiencing difficulties. This is a 90-minute test; students have a two-week window, plus a makeup window, to complete the test. Commissioner Stewart is looking into any reported issues to determine the cause and will work to immediately resolve it.”

The state attributes the problems to the company it hired to create the exam--the American Institute of Research, or A-I-R.

The problems with the test are not without warning. Several school districts reported they were not ready for the test and had expressed concerns about giving the exam online. And testing critic Bob Schaeffer with the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, says the rollout of the new FSA exam is similar to the botched rollout of healthcare.gov

“It’s a technological failure, predicted in this case, that undermines the credibility of the entire system," he says.

The issues around the FSA come as state lawmakers consider scaling back the number of tests given to public school students. The Senate's education committee takes up the testing issue Wednesday.