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Education Department: Indiana schools unprepared for online tests

About 77 percent of Indiana schools are technologically ill-equipped to to reliably administer state ISTEP tests online, and the Indiana Department of Education told state lawmakers it will take millions of dollars to fix the problem.

At today’s House Ways and Means Committee meeting, state Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s top deputy, Danielle Shockey, and testing director, Michele Walker, said it could cost an extra $34 million over the next two years to get Indiana schools on solid footing when it comes to the computing power and access speed needed to make online testing seamless.

The deputy superintendent said schools need better broadband Internet support most of all, but in some places schools also need better computers.

“(Schools) need increased broadband before they can even think to increase their hardware,” Shockey said. “Broadband has to come first.”

Indiana hasn’t had an easy go of online testing so far.

The state has embraced online administration of the state ISTEP test for about 500,000 students in grades 3 to 8 since 2010. But in three of the last five years, the state experienced major problems with online testing, including students who were interrupted while taking ISTEP online by glitches or because they were unexpectedly logged out of the system.

The state’s test vendor, CTB/McGraw-Hill, gave the state free services and other reparations to make amends for the problems, which also plagued other states that used the company for online exams.

Specifically, the department is asking for $15 million per year in the two-year budget to reinstate a fund exclusively for technology. Most of that money would go toward broadband, but some would also be used to increase the security of student data. The department also wants a $2 million increase per year to nearly double the size of a fund that helps train teachers for online instruction, Shockey said.

Legislators were concerned that so many schools were unprepared for the online testing. Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion, said he heard there were problems just last week with CTB/McGraw Hill practice ISTEP tests.

Walker said the state is switching to a new way of administering online tests, and last week’s problems were seen during a “stress test” of that system intended to identify weaknesses. She said the test company and the department are working to eliminate those problems before ISTEP begins in March.

“It’s a trying time for all vendors that provide online testing, to be totally honest with you,” Walker said. “We’re all in this world of trying to perfect something that has such high stakes attached to it.”

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