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State to get $4.5M in free testing services

Local school-district officials say that content errors and disruptions during this past year’s Georgia Milestones testing were minimal.

Even so, CTB/McGraw-Hill, the testing vendor, will provide $4.5 million in services at no cost to the Georgia Department of Education following those content errors and disruptions, State School Superintendent Richard Woods recently announced.

Those services include safeguards to ensure future administrations of the test take place with no similar issues.
Patti Crane, the chief information officer for the Liberty County School System, said the district assigned a technical specialist to each school while testing was given.

“As expected, we did experience some technical difficulties, but our prior planning helped,” she said in an email response to questions from the Courier. “The technical specialists were on-site when needed, teachers stayed calm, and our tech-savvy students quickly figured out how to handle some of the technical issues themselves. As a result, any technical challenges were quickly resolved.”

When teachers saw content errors on the tests, they “reported it, and their reports were forwarded to the assessment division of Georgia’s Department of Education,” Crane said.

In Long County, students experienced “slower response times” while taking the tests, said Glenn Purcell, the school system’s chief of staff and technology director.

“There were primarily two days of interrupted service during the EOG (End of Grade) tests,” he said in an email response to the Courier’s questions. “These issues occurred early on in our testing window, and they progressively improved over the next few days.”

The funding the state will receive includes $2.64 million to create and implement end-of-course assessments serving the new traditional/discrete math course options, meaning those tests will be developed at no expense to Georgia taxpayers. CTB/McGraw-Hill also will provide:

• As much as $120,000 for an in-state program manager to serve as a point of contact for the state Department of Education for one year helping to coordinate, organize and prioritize tasks requiring department review and input

• As much as $60,000 toward an independent analysis of the problems that took place in 2015-16

• More than $1.6 million in additional services

After a recent meeting between CTB/McGraw-Hill President Ellen Haley and Woods, CTB/McGraw-Hill agreed to provide the services listed above as recompense for the errors and disruptions that took place during the 2015 test administration.

“Holding CTB/McGraw-Hill accountable for these issues was nonnegotiable for us,” Woods said in a department news release. “The problems were not widespread, but for the students who were affected, that does not matter. It was essential that we ensure this never happens again. The vendor has worked with us to make sure those safeguards are in place and to ensure Georgia is compensated for the services that were not rendered effectively. Fortunately, in this circumstance, that means we’re able to eliminate some expenses for the taxpayer.”

As part of Woods’ larger focus on testing, the release says, he has started the planning process of working with nonprofits to conduct an audit of state and local testing.

During the 2015 administration of the Georgia Milestones end-of-grade tests, many schools tested students online, and some of those schools experienced periodic connection issues, according to the state Department of Education. These were attributed, in many cases, to the lengthy delay in the test administration system’s ability to sync student information across databases.

Other students encountered instances of the test “freezing” or taking prolonged periods of time to load the next test question.

This issue became more predominant on April 21 and 22 as more schools across the state began to test. Many students who were granted an accommodation of using a screen reader to read test questions experienced more delays and interruptions than other students because of an insufficient number of testing vendor servers to handle the number of screen readers used.

On April 21 and 22, the state suspended testing for the impacted students while CTB/McGraw-Hill worked to identify the cause and remediate.

The interruptions were sporadic and scattered across the state, affecting a relatively small number of students. At no time was Georgia required to suspend all testing, as was the case in other states this spring, the news release says.

Crane noted that because this was the first year of the Georgia Milestones Assessment System, the test scores were not tied to student promotion or end-of-course grades. The Milestones replaced the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, which were given for the last time in the 2013-14 school year.

Courier staff contributed to this report.

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