Online standardized tests go haywire; Fulton cancels them for 20,000

<p>Stock photo of a classroom.</p>

Credit: Wokandapix /

Credit: Wokandapix /

Fulton County Schools cancelled online standardized tests that about 20,000 elementary and middle school students would have taken Wednesday, because of technology problems with the vendor.

The district began giving the Iowa Assessments to third-, fifth- and eighth-grade students on Monday, but schools reported problems with the online testing platform.

Computer screens went white or dark, and students were randomly timed out of sessions, said Cliff Jones, the district’s chief academic officer.

The district announced Tuesday afternoon it would cancel the tests for this year after consulting with the vendor, whom district officials said could not provide a timeline for when testing could resume.

“We went into testing on Monday feeling confident. We couldn’t foresee the issues that the vendor was going to have,” Jones said. “It was very disruptive.”

This was to be the second year that Fulton students took the Iowa tests online.

The cost to administer the online test for the year is $388,542. The district plans to review the contract and talk to the vendor to determine what amount it will have to pay for this year’s halted tests.

Riverside Insights, the district's vendor, became aware of various issues with the test and recommended schools pause testing. Deval Clearwater, the company's vice president of product management and marketing, said she didn't know how widespread the testing issues were.

“We are working with our technology partners to sort out the root cause. We have resumed testing (and are) closely monitoring our metrics to make sure that we don’t have another issue,” she said Wednesday.

She said the company had not experienced anything like the recent issues since it started offering online tests.

Unlike the Georgia Milestones, the Iowa tests are not mandated by the state. The Fulton district uses the Iowa scores to help determine students' eligibility for talented and gifted programs.

Jones said the district has other ways to assess if a student belongs in the program. It can use previous Iowa test results, so long as they are less than a year old, and it can also administer a different standardized test to specific students who meet screening criteria.

Fulton also uses Iowa scores to compare students' academic performance against others across the nation. But Jones said other tests, such as the ACT and SAT college-admissions exams and Advanced Placement exams, also give the district an idea of how Fulton students stack up nationally.

The Iowa tests aim to measure how much a student knows in various subjects, such as language skills and math.

Fulton began testing Monday, starting with about 14,000 students in 61 schools. Those scores are invalid because students were unable to access materials, were interrupted many times and encountered other problems.

Jones said the district discussed the situation multiple times with the vendor, and he said the district “did not feel comfortable” continuing the test.

Stephanie Batcos’ eighth-grade son completed the first part of a test Monday, but couldn’t finish the second half because of glitches. That left him feeling like the effort was wasted, she said.

Batcos said she likes to see the results of the Iowa scores because they can be compared to national scores, and it gives some insight into how a student might do on college-admissions tests later in high school.

Still, she said, she wishes schools “were a little more focused on letting teachers teach and not so much on testing in general.”

Jones said the incident was frustrating, including for teachers who proctor the exam. The district hasn’t said if it will resume Iowa testing next year.

“This gives us the opportunity to ask some of those questions, it behooves us to do thorough reflection on the value,” Jones said.

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