State testing problems plaguing Kansas schools

Photo: News10

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Another year, more problems with state testing across Kansas schools.

For the second day in a row, Topeka Public Schools have had to delay testing, as they work around a problematic system.

“The testing site keeps crashing,” said Misty Krueger, district spokeswoman. “Every year we have some sort of issue.”

Krueger said the servers at the University of Kansas are to blame. Area teachers are working around the issue by delaying the testing, in hopes of being able to get in before the deadline.

Topeka Schools said the situation is stressful for teachers and students.

“There’s already a lot of anxiety … something like this doesn’t help at all,” Krueger said.

Shawnee Heights USD 450 Superintendent Martin Stessman says they had issues Tuesday and Wednesday with state testing.

“We have had to cease testing two days in a row at Shawnee Heights High School, yesterday at Shawnee Heights Elementary School, Tecumseh North and Berryton Elementary School were able to power through eventually, strategically waiting until after 2:00 p.m. to try and finish those who got hung up.”

Stessman says on Wednesday all the schools had to halt testing because the issue was so monumental.

“Some schools couldn’t log in at all.  We checked KITE status before starting our testing today and status was green.”

Stessman tells KSNT News KITE is supposed to update that status if there are problems but they are late in doing so.

“It would have been nice to know things weren’t working before we assembled students to test.”

Stessman says his concerns are simple.

“Once a student is prepared to test and we have assembled machines and scheduled time and done everything we can to create optimal testing conditions and the KITE engine doesn’t work then we have totally invalidated the testing experience for those students. Even if they can “muddle through” the result is an invalid measurement.”

Martin Weishaar, a spokesperson for Auburn-Washburn USD 437 says they are having some issues with the system but that they are working through them.

The Kansas State Department of Education is hoping that software enhancements being implemented Wednesday night will fix or at least improve some of the problems school districts are experiencing while trying to test.

Testing is at a standstill Wednesday since students have gone home for the day. Denise Kahler, KDE’s Director of Communications, says they will have to wait for testing to ramp back up Thursday morning in order to test the system load. Kahler says statewide testing began about 3 weeks ago on March 14th. However, problems didn’t arise until yesterday. She says they’ve realized that the system is failing to perform at peak times when many schools are testing simultaneously—particularly between the hours of 9 to 11.

Kahler says some schools have been able to test without issue, however she didn’t say how many of the state’s 289 school districts that includes. KDE is encouraging schools to try and test if they can during slower periods of the day, like in the afternoon. However, many schools prefer to test during the morning hours when kids have the most energy and ability to focus. Schools often tell their students to get plenty of sleep and eat a good breakfast to minimize distractions. They then, test first thing in the morning rather than wait until the afternoon hours when children tend to be more tired and struggle to pay attention.

Problems plagued the state’s testing system in 2014. That’s when Kahler says the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation was hit with a dedicated denial of service attack. The KDE spokeswoman tells KSNT News they do not believe the current issue is a DDOS attack nor a problem with not enough bandwidth. KU’s CETE is hoping that the software enhancements they make Wednesday night will ready the system to handle testing during tomorrow morning’s peak hours, according to Kahler.
KSNT News is checking into the Kansas State Department of Education’s contract with the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas to find out how much money the state pays CETE for state testing.

The test assessment program at KU’s CETE is referred to as KITE: the Kansas Interactive Testing Engine. More than 15,000 educators across Kansas use KITE according to CETE’s website. KITE is used for several things including form building, test administration, and reporting. All 289 school districts in Kansas rely on the center to assess Kansas students in math, reading, science, and social studies.

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