Despite Online Testing Troubles, Minnesota Scores Not Affected

Minnesota is one of the states working to implement online student proficiency testing — a transition that hasn't always gone smoothly. But new analysis has found that students' scores were not affected by computer slowdowns, freezes and other problems experienced by thousands of students during testing in April, according to Christopher Magan of Twin Cities.

The analysis, conducted by the Human Resources Research Organization, found that the problems with computers did not have a widespread impact on students' scores. The state is expected to release the results of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs, next week.

The analysis found that students experienced delayed delivery of test questions over two test days in April. The exact number of students affected is not known because data provided by the testing vendor American Institutes of Research (AIR) does not include students who were kicked off the system or could not log in.

Jon Cohen, vice president of assessment for AIR, acknowledged a slowdown with its computer servers April 16, but said its equipment appeared to be functioning normally April 23. The online tests are designed to handle glitches, whether on individual computers, in entire school buildings or across the system, with little impact on students, Cohen said. The conclusion that performance was not affected shows the system was working properly, he said.

According to Charlene Briner, state Department of Education chief of staff, the Human Resources Research Organization is a well-respected firm and their analysis should give educators more confidence in the test results.

In order to align with national education benchmarks of the Common Core, states across the country are working to implement online proficiency tests.

"When 50 states are up and trying to run online assessments, the consequences could be much larger," said Robert Schaeffer, spokesman for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Instead, he said states should slowly build up online testing systems to make sure they have infrastructure in place to provide the same assessment to every student. Internet access varies across the country, especially in rural areas.

In addition to Minnesota, other states, including Indiana, Kentucky and Oklahoma, also had issues with online proficiency tests last spring.

Minnesota lawmakers, despite these technical problems, voted to require nearly universal online proficiency testing by 2015. State leaders expect to have proposals in September from firms that want to administer the growing system.

Also, state education officials will review the state's more than $60 million contract with AIR to decide whether the company should have to pay damages for delays and other problems.

When scores are released next week, Briner and other educators hope all the factors that may have affected scores will be considered. Besides computer glitches, students took more rigorous reading tests last spring for the first time.

"I think it's important to look at information over time," Briner said. "It's also important to remember this is just a snapshot of a student in a particular subject on a particular day."

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