Only a few months into its $38 million contract with Pearson, Minnesota's online proficiency testing is already experiencing technological problems.
The online portal used by Pearson in the administration of testing was found to be out of date during a recent practice test period, leaving many across the state in shock as Pearson suggested that the tests be administered online in an "unsafe" mode.
State education officials are hard at work with Pearson to fix the issues before the beginning of testing this spring.
According to state law, students in third through eighth grade must take the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) in English, math and science. The tests will begin to be administered online in the spring of 2015, reports Kim McGuire for The Star Tribune.
A large portion of how public schools in the state are graded under the Multiple Measurement Rating comes from student scores on the MCAs.
One of the main issues that arose is that the Apple computers used throughout the school district in computer labs and school-issued iPads given to students use the Safari Web browser, which is not compatible with Pearson's TestNav testing portal.
Pearson's equipment uses a version of Flash and Java software that can only be used on the Apple products if security is disabled on students' devices, writes Christopher Magan for TwinCities.com.
"I was very surprised they rolled out a memo that said just turn your security off," said Dave Heistad, director of assessment, evaluation and research for Bloomington schools. "That blew me away. I couldn't believe a multimillion-dollar company would roll something out that wasn't secure."
Local computer security expert and founder of Netsecuris Inc. Leonard Jacobs said that both software products are well known for their vulnerabilities and need to be updated, adding that it was no surprise that the company used older software. "It seems to be the way of the world," he said. "It costs money to make changes."
According to a recent Microsoft security report, companies like Apple are no longer using software like Java and Flash because they tend to be more vulnerable to hacking attempts.
Pearson is currently working with Apple to fix the glitches, and has ensured that their testing portal can be used on other browsers. The company plans to launch a more complex system later in 2015.
State legislation mandating online testing have left schools with no other options, said Kevin McHenry, Minnesota assistant education commissioner.
"We want to make this as smooth as possible and we are working with Pearson to minimize any issues that may arise," McHenry said.
Pearson's vice president of state services Carol Everson has acknowledged that more should have been said concerning the system's requirements. She added that alternatives are already being developed for use by schools and the company is keeping in contact with them in order to fix any problems that come up. "We take testing extremely seriously," Everson said.