Minnesota Works to Fix Bugs, Hurdles in Online Testing


Technology staff in schools across Minnesota are hurrying to ensure their systems are capable of handling the state’s recent $38 million contract with Pearson for online proficiency tests.

Recent practice tests administered across the state found the online portal used by Pearson to administer the exams to be outdated.  In order to fix the issue, Pearson suggested schools run their computers online in what is considered to be an “unsecure” mode.

A recently released report, “4th Annual Principals’ Assessment of Public Education,” conducted by MCH Strategic Data and edWeb.net, which looked at trends among K-12 schools across the country, found that a primary concern is having enough access to technology for curriculum and instruction.

State education officials have announced they will be working with Pearson to fix the problem prior to spring testing in the state.

State law requires that, beginning in the spring of 2015, students in the third through tenth grades pass the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs, online in English, math and science.

The state’s Multiple Measurement Rating greatly depends on student scores on those exams, writes Christopher Magan for The Pioneer Press.

Carol Everson, Pearson’s vice president of state services, has said that the company should have been more specific concerning system requirements from the start.  She went on to say that the company is already in the process of creating alternatives for use by the schools and remains in contact with them in order to solve any problems that may arise.  “We take testing extremely seriously,” Everson said.

The problem lies within Pearson’s TestNav testing portal, which does not act well with the Safari web browser found on all the Apple products used by students in Minnesota schools.  Pearson’s system uses Java and Flash software that are no longer supported by Safari.  The only way around this issue is to disable security on the student’s devices.

“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.”

While Pearson works with Apple to correct the issue, they have ensured that their testing portal will work with other browsers.  A more advanced system is expected to launch at a later date in 2015.

The problem is not solely Minnesota’s.  Other states across the country have reported issues with online testing vendors, including Pearson, which in turn, have convinced critics of high-stakes testing, such as Robert Schaeffer, of the group FairTest, that the country has a long way to go before it is ready for nationwide online testing.

“The problems Minnesota faces with Pearson’s technical capacity are typical of those confronting many states across the U.S. as they move into mass online testing to administer new Common Core-related assessments,” Schaeffer said. “It is not just a Pearson problem. Put simply, the technology is not ready for prime time.”

However, this view has not stopped states across the country from moving toward the use of digital tests, writes Charlie Boss for The Columbus Dispatch.

In order to better prepare for the new tests, students in Ohio are participating in technology and typing lessons.  Many districts have brought up concerns of not being technologically ready for the exam, causing the state to allow the option of giving all, some, or none of the exams online this year.  As a result, most districts are choosing to do a mixture of paper and computer exams.

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