McGraw-Hill Server Crashes Create Online Testing Chaos

Testing turned  into chaos earlier this week, according to Kim Archer writing for Tulsa World, when the CTB/McGraw-Hill testing company servers suffered a Monday morning crash that obliterated online, computer-based testing in Oklahoma. As it’s the final week of Oklahoma’s April testing window the technical problems caused consternation amongst school officials faced with sudden scheduling difficulties.

Sherry Fair, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Education, released a statement saying that they were working closely with McGraw-Hill to resolve the issues. While many districts were forced to cancel online testing, there are reports of some students being able to successfully complete the tests.

Kyle Stokes, writing for NPR’s StateImpact, reports that the problems have continued throughout the week with Indiana’s online ISTEP+ exams being suspended on the order of state superintendent Glenda Ritz Tuesday after McGraw-Hill’s testing servers crashed for the second successive day.

“I am greatly disappointed to learn that Indiana schools had their ISTEP+ testing interrupted,” state superintendent Glenda Ritz said in an earlier statement. “Like all Hoosier parents, students and teachers, I find these interruptions frustrating and unacceptable.”

The online ISTEP+ status page was showing a similar error message to the one that ground the testing system to a halt on Monday.

“CTB has received an increased incidence of interruptions,” an alert posted on the site read at 11:30 a.m. Eastern. “Our staff is working to make further system adjustments to make the system available as soon as possible. Please suspend testing until 12:30 EDT.”

A later announcement said that testing would resume Wednesday but at half-load so McGraw-Hill’s servers would not be overloaded. With some students able to complete the tests and others being bumped out of their exams, in addition to the announcement of a scaled down testing load, it seems likely that the cause of the problem is inadequate investment by McGraw-Hill in server infrastructure. This is appalling and unacceptable to many.

“I think it goes without saying that a company bidding on high-stakes testing should have the technology infrastructure to avoid outages such as this,” said Joe Slitzker, information technology director at Sapulpa Public Schools.

Even if McGraw-Hill manages to fix their inadequate technological capability, or negotiate a staggered schedule with the school districts concerned, the repercussions of the debacle will continue.

Rocky Killion is West Lafayette Community Schools superintendent and believes that the problems have robbed the tests of legitimacy and comparability. He is calling for the tests to be made invalid as any comparisons are now impossible between students who were able to complete the test unimpeded and those who suffered constant interruptions.