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Computer glitch delays state online ELA exams

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Thousands of New York State students had a tough time taking state-issued English Language Arts tests on Wednesday.

The issue did not affect all the tests. It was the students who were taking the ELA exams online rather than the traditional paper tests who may have been affected -- and not all of the students taking online exams were impacted.

A few hundred districts around the state this year agreed to give some of the exams by computer to students in grades 3-8.

According to the state Education Department, Questar Assessment, the vendor who was providing the online tests, experienced delays in the delivery of the computer exams to some schools. The state says that Questar resolved the matter as quickly as possible with the delay times varying. 

An update posted on the state Education Department website at 10:12 a.m. said, "We are communicating now with schools that some schools continue to experience a delay with the Questar system. FIXED: Questar has resolved the issue with their server provider. All students can resume testing."

An additional posting said multiple districts had reported that the "Nextera Secure Browser is offline and cannot be downloaded. Students that are testing can continue testing while offline, but they should not try to submit the test. Students should not pause the test. We will keep you posted here and also email all principals."

Buffalo Public Schools Chief Accountability Officer Genelle Morris watched with interest because all city students took their tests with the old number-two pencils.

"Most students are very comfortable taking it, via the paper and pencil form, and that's the mode of delivery that we continue to deliver to them," Morris said. "They're also comfortable using computers, but they've never taken this type of test the operational way before. They've taken it, the STL testing, perhaps, but they've never taken the ELA or the math online."

City schools had just over 15,000 students eligible to take the tests and Morris said almost all did.The Education Department said that districts did successfully administer computer-based tests to more than 32,000 students.

Iroquois Central Schools Superintendent Douglas Scofield said computer-based testing is the way of the future.

"This is the first year we did it," Scofield said. "It had a hiccup, but for the majority, we had about 15 kids out of over 400 that worked, worked how it was supposed to. They were able to complete the test. Really shows that this is the direction that it should be going, the type of questions, the resources they can use during the exam."

Scofield said he did not know how many kids opted out of taking the test. That is in a district where more than half of the students opted-out the last two years.

"You look at any job and how much work is actually completed with computers," Scofield continued. "This is a skill people are going to need out in the workforce and even with that, in the workforce, you're going to have problems. You're going to have times when you need this project done and the printer won't print and you're going to have to be able to work through that. I don't want it to happen during the test, but it actually did parallel some workplaces quite well."

The state’s largest teacher’s union, NYSUT, said the technology failures raise serious questions about the speed of what it called, the state’s “rush into computer based testing,” and it said educators are asking the state to “slow down and get it right.”

“While there were some calls to the Support Line asking for assistance, all inquiries were addressed expediently and to the schools’ satisfaction,” according to the state Education Department.

The state also says schools have the flexibility in the test schedule to postpone the exam for another day.

In other Education Department news, the state has revoked the license of Sean Christophe McGuire. McGuire was a Certified Athletic Trainer at LifeSport Fitness in Buffalo who "admitted to the charge of having been convicted of Driving While Intoxicated." He was previously at Catholic Health through Medaille College.

Licensed Practical Nurse Juanita Charise Graves of Buffalo was fine $250 and had two years stayed suspension and two years probation of her license. A similar penalty was granted against Susan Marie Alonge, a/k/a Susan Marie Hollenbeck, an LPN RPN in Amherst; Jeanine Lauricella, an LPN in Niagara Falls; and Philip Harrison Clarke, a Respiratory Therapy Technician in Brockport.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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