Florida Investigates Cyber Attack That Halted Online Testing

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An investigation is currently ongoing concerning a cyber attack that put the new online standardized writing testing on hold in the state of Florida, said the state education commissioner and the head of the state law enforcement department.

The investigation came after reports were made from a number of school districts across the state who saw “white screens” when they tried to log into the Florida Standards Assessment system.  The issue caught the attention of the education department, who brought their concerns to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

FDLE said its “cyber-crimes squad” was working with the FBI in order to identify any suspects.

The testing system is operated by the Washington-based American Institutes for Research (AIR), which was able to coclude that a cyber attack had taken place.  The issue was quickly put to rest and testing was able to resume by around 8:30am.

“It is important to point out that AIR has reported that while access to the test has been delayed because of the cyber-attacks, no student data has been compromised,” Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said in a statement.

AIR reported that it was working with state agencies, but would not go further with its comments due to the criminal investigation.

Issues occurring with the exams earlier in the week that did not allow schools to log into the testing system were attributed to an update AIR had made.  The issues had almost completely been corrected by Tuesday, only to be replaced by a “widespread” report of “white screens,” which initiated the call to authorities, writes Leslie Postal for The Orlando Sentinel.

The test in question was part of Florida’s answer to the federal Common Core standards, which offer national benchmarks for each grade level.  Despite warnings from multiple school superintendents that the state was not prepared for online testing, the new version had been carried out last week.

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, cyber attacks caused an issue with online testing in Kansas last year.  The organization is now asking for an independent investigation to occur concerning the events in Florida.

FairTest’s public education director, Bob Schaeffer, asked whether the attack was just, “a very convenient excuse for the computer system collapse that confronted many Florida test-takers for several days last week.”

State officials did announce that over 60%, or about 40,000 students, were able to finish the test within the first week of the allotted two-week testing window.

The test, part of the English Language Arts exam, is administered to eighth, ninth and tenth graders.  Plans to continue testing are in full swing, with additional computerized and traditional testing scheduled for upcoming weeks.