Students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and their peers statewide will not be taking the Alaska Measures of Progress and Alaska Alternative assessments this year.
The decision was made Friday to cancel the remainder of the scheduled assessments following repeated interruptions to test takers throughout the first week. Answers expected to automatically save were lost, questions were skipped, sounds malfunctioned and many reported blank screens appearing during the middle of testing.
“The purpose of assessment is to provide valid, useful results. To have valid results, all students must be given the test under the same conditions. At this point, some students have been interrupted by online connectivity problems while they tested, in some cases repeatedly. We cannot with certainty say that this year’s assessments will provide an accurate reflection of all students’ knowledge and performance,” said Dr. Susan McCauley, Interim Commissioner of Education and Early Development, in a Friday press release.
Earlier that day leadership from the Achievement and Assessment Institute, the testing vendor housed at the University of Kansas’ campus, spoke with McCauley and staff at the Department of Education and Early Development about plans to troubleshoot issues with the KITE system over the weekend, McCauley said. She also spoke with some of the state’s superintendents and the state’s Technical Advisory Committee, she said.
In a previous Clarion interview Brian Laurent, data management supervisor for the Department of Education, said the department had reservations about how AAI handled repairing the system after the fiber optic cable was cut by a construction worker Tuesday, the event that caused the initial interruptions. Not enough bandwidth was made available for everyone taking online assessments through the testing vendor’s server. When students resumed testing Thursday, further disruptions caused concerns, he said.
The testing vendor expected that students would be able to log back in to their tests, and resume where they left off, that the questions, no matter where a test was interrupted would have been saved, McCauley said.
That was not the case.
Several of the state’s 54 public school districts reported their students’ answers had not saved as expected, but the Department of Education does not know the extent of how many tests were affected, McCauley said.
Aside from the AMP, students in Alaska were taking or were scheduled to take the Dynamic Learning Maps, Alaska Science and Alaska Alternate Science assessments this year, McCauley said. As of Friday’s decision, roughly 8 percent of students scheduled to take the English language arts, 5 percent of those scheduled to take the mathematics, and 4 percent of students scheduled to take the science content assessments had completed all stages, she said.
“These figures assume that the system accurately tracked student responses,” McCauley said. “As noted, there were multiple reports of skipped questions and blank screens.”
Complications also arose this year that were not related to the fiber optic cable being cut.
Some of the technical irregularities reported by school districts, such as the system randomly skipping questions, blank screens and issues with sound, occurred even before the incident Tuesday, McCauley said. This was a surprise especially because the 2015 administration of AMP went so smoothly, she said.
“Although the level of detail in the data provided by the AMP reports did not meet the expectations of the department, teachers, and district leadership, Alaska did not experience the technical difficulties faced by many states when administering a computer-based assessment for the first time,” McCauley said. “We are proud of this accomplishment due to Alaska’s vast geography and technical challenges, especially with bandwidth availability in rural and remote Alaska.”
Even though the Department of Education planned to send out Request for Proposals this spring in search of a new test that fulfills federal standardized testing requirements for the 2016-2017 school year, the state and AAI were expecting results that more accurately reflect student achievement following this round of testing, McCauley said.
“This information is only valid, though, if we can assure parents and teachers that these data are an accurate reflection of student performance,” McCauley said. “By Friday afternoon, we felt as though we could not make that assurance. Enough strain had already been placed on students and school environments. It was time to focus once again on classroom instruction.”
McCauley met with U.S. Department of Education Secretary John King Monday in Washington, D.C., during a previously scheduled trip to brief him on the technical difficulties Alaska was experiencing with the assessments. The U.S. Department of Education has not yet relayed how Alaska is expected to demonstrate the challenges, but the state is ready to show how the sequence of events created a lack of confidence in the viability of the results, she said.
“AAI’s leadership did apologize for this year’s complications,” McCauley said. “It should be reiterated that the cut in the fiber optic cable that precipitated many of the adverse effects experienced by students was surprising not just for its randomness and poor timing coinciding with the first day of the test window, but also because of the very successful initial administration of AMP in 2015.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan email@example.com.