State testing trips over technology troubles

Georgia Milestones mishaps on End-Of-Grade testing could mean that for the second straight year, most of the relatively new test’s results won’t count.

Instead, students, teachers and administrators would be left with headaches from connectivity issues that caused students to lose work, often having to restart the test regardless of how far into it they were.

State Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza said officials will ask the state Board of Education to waive the promotion retention rule, so the test results would not be the deciding factor whether a student advances to the next grade.

“This action is being sought in the interest of our third-, fifth- and eighth-grade students given the stakes involved for these students in reading (grades 3, 5 and 8) and mathematics (grades 5 and 8) because some may have experienced problems due to technology issues,” he said.

As the state moves toward having most test-taking online, parents and teachers have complained about connectivity issues — including slow WiFi, students unable to log in, and students losing work after being kicked off the system. The size of the testing window also has been a problem, as well as the need to share computers, which both can lead to students sitting around as others complete the test, parents said.

Wednesday, Heather Sorensen was awaiting a text from her sixth-grade daughter about completing part of the test. She and her husband have two students in Fulton County Schools.

“It was her third-straight day trying to take the same test due to network issues,” Sorensen said of her middle-schooler Wednesday.

Districts having trouble with testing have been given time — up to 15 days in some cases — to finish testing.

Cardoza said among the leading issues reported to the state are testing site managers lagging in sending students’ responses and iPad connectivity. He pointed to information on the department’s website that lays out instructions for educators giving the test, as well as guides for technology requirements, such as capacity figures for how many students can be tested at a time.

It’s the second year Georgia students have taken the Milestones tests, which replaced Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and others. Paper versions are available, and used by some districts. Last year’s results weren’t counted for grade advancement because it was the new test’s first year.

Abigail Coggin, a parent and Board of Education member in Newton County, said in her district, some students will retake the test using the paper version after dealing with computer issues.

“After speaking with other parents and students, many think (Georgia) Milestones is a joke — myself included,” she said. “If the DOE can’t have a computer system that works properly, how can we trust that they are grading the tests correctly?”

End-Of-Grade testing runs from April 4 through May 6 statewide, with schools choosing a nine-day window during that period to test their students. Make-up days for end-of-grade testing are at the end of the local district’s testing window.

Amy Christiansen’s daughter, a middle-school student in Fulton County, told her the time to complete testing often leaves her with watery eyes from staring at a computer screen for hours.

She “speaks of how she feels good at the beginning of the nearly three-hour testing block, but feels her performance toward the end of the testing block is not as good,” Christiansen said. “Your crisp mind is likely to be less so in hour two, and even less in hour two and a half. Here again a point is missed. Staring at a computer screen for that long is draining on the eyes. My daughter says her eyes are watery sometimes toward the end of testing.”

Coggin said the DOE should provide enough computers or tablets, as well as having the necessary systems in place to handle the number of students taking the tests to avoid the issues surfacing. One teacher in her district complained that 20 of her 21 students never finished the test during the school’s testing window, after being disconnected and trying to log in over and over.

“I think the tests should be invalidated and we move on,” she said. “Playing the blame game doesn’t help anyone, especially not the students. Whether the issues began with the DOE, the online testing company or the school systems, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the individual achievement of our students and their well-being.”

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