State Department of Education: Despite glitches with Milestones, testing is going better than last year

Despite reports of online testing failures, Georgia Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza tells me the 2016 Milestones are going better than last year. In the 2014-2015 inaugural run of the Georgia Milestones, there was a statewide kink with the screen reader accommodations for students with special needs.

I’m not sure that assurance from DOE will allay the frustrations of parents such as the mother who posted on AJC Get Schooled Facebook: My kids have come home with stories every day about iPads breaking down, tests turning off, WiFi not working — and then my middle daughter lived it today when she was unable to finish a test. It is a total shame children are subjected to this. Not fair at all.

High schools began their Milestones testing this week, while the testing window for middle and elementary schools opened three weeks ago.

Cardoza said the DOE has not heard much yet about high school testing snafus, but a teacher just posted on AJC Get Schooled Facebook: “Nearly all of North Fulton is down. Furious! Our high schoolers cannot refuse these tests like our elementary and middle schoolers.”

The high school Milestones scores count for 20 percent of a student’s grade, so there are serious consequences to refusing the test. There is less penalty to middle and elementary students as the tests do not count into grades and are only one factor considered in promotion and retention decisions.

Many problems have been around capacity and software updates at the district level. The sheer number of students going online is overwhelming local capacity, Cardoza said. Why didn’t these problems surface in trial runs by the districts?

“I don’t know if they had the same number of people getting on the servers at the same time; that is what seems to be the issue. If you did a dry run that didn’t look at capacity  – and that is the most prevalent problem we have seen – it is going to be an issue for you,” said Cardoza.

Glitches are more common for students taking the Milestones on iPads rather than desktop computers. “Speaking as a parent whose daughter took the test last week, she was on a desktop with several kids while others were on iPads. The kids on the iPads had the issues, but she was able to finish her test,” he said.

Are systems getting support?

Cardoza said DOE Deputy Superintendent Melissa Fincher and her staff in the office of assessment and accountability have been fielding calls from districts and providing assistance. They did not take off the state holiday Monday so they could be on hand to help. Cardoza said Data Recognition Corporation, the state’s custom testing company, is also helping, even putting someone on the ground in Fulton County Schools where there have been more reports of test failures.

“DRC has been very responsive to us and the districts. We will continue to do what we can at our end and DRC will continue to do what it can. We recognize it is a disruption,” Cardoza said. “We will continue to learn from the districts what the issues are and make improvements.

“Some of it is going to be ironing out what is working and what is not and looking at the configurations to ensure capacity is there and ready for that many students working at the same time,” he said. “If there is a state issue or a contractor issue, we have made it pretty clear we’ll hold the contractors accountable to do what they said in their contact. We did that last year when we recouped money back.”

As the AJC reported last year:

Georgia’s school test contractor will provide $4.5 million in sweat equity to make up for “disruptions” during the administration of the Georgia Milestones tests this spring, according to the Georgia Department of Education. CTB/McGraw-Hill, whose $23 million contract with Georgia is up for renewal, has agreed to make up for the disruptions by providing free services deemed to be worth $4.5 million.

(McGraw-Hill has since sold its custom testing arm to DRC.)

A Forsyth parent on an earlier blog offered an expert assessment on the computer challenges that I thought summed up the situation well:

It’s a predictable combination of bandwidth issues, server strain, hardware failure and application errors. Fortunately there appear to have been fewer issues in Forsyth than in Fulton.

I’ve worked in IT for 25 Years and in my opinion our district does a pretty good job of implementing technology. But even here there isn’t enough money to design and build infrastructure to support three nines service or to have enough devices for peak testing demand. There will always be application errors even with good quality assurance and I would not be surprised if the actual testing of these applications is shoddy. The fact that systems running above capacity are having higher failure rates is as predictable as the Braves mediocre season.

 

Reader Comments 0

26 comments
Leo Vorostrov
Leo Vorostrov

The testing system needs to be made better in departments of the state and not just scholastic education. Whether it is a test for driver’s license, contractor license, bar exam or any other test, the system should be improved. 

Steve Brueck
Steve Brueck

We had no problems here in Gwinnett... We use "real" computers, not a tablet to do testing. Our computers are locked down so no updates or other tasks can run on them while they are in the testing mode. 


Most school systems don't have the infrastructure that we have, nor do they have an exceptional IT staff to help in getting a stable and secure testing environment setup. 


But more importantly, the state needs to quit wasting everyone's time. How many more years will we have to go through a test that doesn't count? We have lost 9 days of instruction this year just for this test. Seriously? What "educator" in their right mind thinks that's a good idea? What's more important, the students education or nine days of testing. Oh... and our test aren't over. We have SPG testing this week and District Assessments following that. 


Honestly, I don't think any of the issues were the vendor's fault. The problems I've heard about all seem to be infrastructure/hardware related. The main issue we have here (and as most schools have) is lack of lab space to be used for testing, and I had to setup two classrooms with 30 laptops in each room get more computers in the mix. But to give you an idea, all of those laptops were wireless, with all the computers in each room going through one wireless access point without any testing issues.  I also used wireless laptops from our mobile carts without issue. 


And whoever is buying iPads for school use is wasting taxpayer money in my opinion. 

mddebm
mddebm

@StopFedEd Many kids D/N test well due 2 stress/anxiety. I & mine didn't. These kids go home wanting iPads which parents C/N afford.

jerryeads
jerryeads

We are in a transition toward computer-based testing. There will continue to be "glitches" - but they'll hopefully decline in frequency. To some extent, different kids will be tested inaccurately using this method than "traditional" paper and pencil bubble testing. That's the way it's always been, always will be. Mass testing is just another of many mechanisms that discriminate against less fortunate folks - that is to say, these tests seem to underestimate the actual capacities of lower income individuals.

Regardless, how 'bout you guys downtown ponder using all these bux to do something that actually might help teachers help kids? You've been throwing this worthless junk at kids for decades for all sorts of invalid reasons and guess what? NAEP scores stay the same or decline. Regardless of who actually said it, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." You continue to play right into the hands of the market-game con artists who are hell-bent to destroy public education in the name of profit.

Another comment
Another comment

My oldest had 4 finals scheduled for today at Georgia State. All finals must be taken in special testing computer labs, with security protocols. Multiple disciplines can end up in the room at one time. She is in a specialized STEM class for which the professors reserved the room, so all 76 students in the program would take the exam at the same time as to prevent any leakage of answers. Between exams 2/3 they were kicked out of room for lunch. When they returned the testing lab proctors had allowed random Art, Physycology and other majors in to take other exams. Their was not enough seats, aka computers for their whole class to take exams 3/4. Students from her program contacted the professors who came down and told the testing room, we had the room and terminals reserved.

Taking tests via computer and on-line is a big problem which has not been throughly thought through!

yellowjacket70
yellowjacket70

It's predictable that the state would pass the blame for the testing failures on the local districts. The state did not fund the districts to install and support the technology infrastructure necessary to conduct the state's latest and greatest testing boondoggle. The state decided not to use competently developed tests as they were associated with the dreaded Common Core. Instead they had there own tests developed with inadequate testing supposedly to save money. To prove they are saving money, they didn't it on the cheap without allowing for any costs to implement at the local level. This is yet another example of the state cutting funding or passing costs to the local districts. Meanwhile the politicians tout their educational funding but it is invariably for their latest pet project rather than basic educational funding.

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

Matt Cardoza reminds me of "Baghdad Bob", the Iraqi spokesman who was proclaiming "There are no American infidels in Baghdad" as US Army tanks were surrounding the building where he was holding the press conference!


GA DOE's Milestone Testing is a disaster, just like GA DOE's Teacher Keys Effectiveness System (TKES) is a disaster.


eulb
eulb

"CTB/McGraw-Hill ... has agreed to make up for the disruptions by providing free services deemed to be worth $4.5 million."

Today's students are the ones who must suffer the consequences of a testing program that doesn't work.  CTB/McGraw-Hill's agreement gives them no remedy at all. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@eulb Nor the taxpayers who pay for this hot mess.  Only when these "testing companies" (good old boys) are given a large financial reimbursement penalty will we see this fixed.  We never did on the CRCT grading, although for years it was always late.  And we won't see the stewards of our money impose penalties on their friends.

Lisa Joaquin Floyd
Lisa Joaquin Floyd

From a teacher and a parent: It is time to put students first, and put a stop to all of this high-stakes testing! Too much is being mixed together with norm referenced and criterion referenced components. Throw writing into three of the five days for grades 3-8, and a grading nightmare has been created. Spring 2015 scores were not returned until October. Will scores be back in time to determine retests, promotion, retention, and 20% of high school students' averages? Is it fair to cause this much stress over an assessment that is questionable? The only group benefiting from this is the test publisher!

Tiffany Shipman Bourne
Tiffany Shipman Bourne

Wow! Delayed testing, no testing at all, rescheduled tests, late lunches, late dismissal. The stress of a test is bad enough, but now having to deal with all these issues....I bet Matt Cardoza is glad his evaluation, pay scale and license isn't dependent on a group of 8 year olds. This testing is ridiculous and out of control!

advocateforchange
advocateforchange

Actually, Fulton County is in the process of providing every child with their own technology IPAD or computer.  The IPADS that are being used are new.  However, they do not have a great deal of storage so assignments have to be saved in the cloud.

Another comment
Another comment

How would anyone even venture to guess this would work. Apple's recent 0S6 Software upgrade rendered IPad 2 kaput. Sure they put out a patch the next day, but many like I had already downloaded this software upgrade on our IPADs. While one might say an IPad 2 is a dinosaurs, mine functioned fine at 5 years old. I suspect that many of the ones that the schools have are also IPad 2, since not everyone has the dollars for technology upgrades on an annual basis.

After two weeks Apple admitted the corruption of the software by the new update and replaced my IPAD with a Brand new IPAD 2. For only $49. Yes they still manufacture new IPAD 2's to replace the ones they corrupt.

While spending much of a week at AT&T and then Apple Store, it became apparent that neither of their own stores have enough capacity for multiple users to be logged into their IPad's, computers and I phones and sustain a viable WiFi connection to download software upgrades. As Apple claimed we have to rely on the Cisco router in our store. I said perhaps you need multiple Cisco routers. Then they said everyone in the mall languishes outside near the store to hop on our signial. This was just a couple hundred users at the Apple Store. Not the 2,000- 3,000 students that are in our metro high schools.

How this was not foreseeable is beyond belief.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

So it is the SYSTEMS' FAULT?  Pass the buck, Matt.  In fact, pass billions of them to make up for what was withheld from the schools since before the recession.

ErikaHarris
ErikaHarris

The $4.5 million dollar kickback completely discounts the negative impact that "glitches" and poorly planned and implemented testing has on the psyche and performance of our students.  Testing already induces anxiety.  Add in the high stakes (another word for stress) environment plus implementation problems - and you have a situation where you can not guarantee a student's peak performance.  Again - all of this is throwing best practices out the door.  

gapeach101
gapeach101

Is anyone surprised?  As soon as I heard  all tests were going to be on the computer, I knew it wasn't going to work.  It's not like schools have a techie on site to fix whatever computer problem pops up.    

gapeach101
gapeach101

@xxxzzz @gapeach101

Any entity that puts all its eggs in the technology basket, and doesn't have a technology expert within 40 feet, is asking for trouble.  And that's exactly what the state did.

redweather
redweather

This is a fiasco. And I'm sure the school choice crowd will pounce on this as evidence that "government" schools are evil.

Ruth Zackowitz Hartman
Ruth Zackowitz Hartman

and if you believe that, I have some prime real estate in the everglades to sell you.

Michelle Shoup Quartel
Michelle Shoup Quartel

Makes me think of the Ricky Gervais Verizon commercial - "their slogan should be: not as rubbish as we were."

Tiffany Shipman Bourne
Tiffany Shipman Bourne

Wow! Delayed testing, no testing at all, rescheduled tests, late lunches, late dismissal. The stress of a test is bad enough, but now having to deal with all these issues....I bet Matt Cardoza is glad his evaluation, pay scale and license isn't dependent on a group of 8 year olds. This testing is ridiculous and out of control!