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Despite Snafus, Kentucky 'Still Moving Forward' With Online Assessments

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Kentucky is one of the first states in the country to use online assessments linked to new Common Core state standards.

It's also one of several states to suffer from high profile snafus in the administration of online exams. First, there were problems scoring constructed responses. Then, last month, after 25 districts across the state reported slow and dropped connections on the testing system provided by vendor ACT, Kentucky's state department of education was forced to suspend the administration of the online end-of-course exams.

Marty Park is Kentucky's chief digital officer, responsible for making sure the state's schools and districts are prepared for the online exams and helping with their rollout. Park sat down with Education Week at ISTE13 to talk about lessons learned.

The transcript of our conversation has been edited for clarity.

What's been the fallout from Kentucky's online testing snafu last month?

At the ground level, when something doesn't go well, that's hard to recover from. We know what happened. It didn't have anything to do with the school network or the state network. But from a teacher's perspective, none of that matters. We have to recover from the negative perception.

Indiana, which experienced similar problems with their online testing vendor (CTB-McGraw Hill), is seeking damages. Will Kentucky do the same with ACT?

Our state department of education and the vendor are in important conversations right now about moving forward and making things right. There are financial implications. We will see an announcement trying to get to, 'Here's what happened, here's our plan to move forward and recover.'

Following the snafu, the state moved to pencil-and-paper tests for some students, then waived a requirement that schools use results from the exams in calculating student grades. At this point, how reliable and useful is the data from those exams?

From a psychometric standpoint, there's a lot that plays into that. When it's not a pristine [testing] experience, a lot of people are really nervous, especially when it's high-stakes....If [testing] gets interrupted, it's a big deal.

Given all the recent trouble, is online testing worth it?

You can actually get a deeper level of measurement of what a person knows with a digital or online assessment than you can with paper and pencil...If you can get to interactive, performance-based, digital activity, whether it's games or tasks or apps, you can get to deeper knowledge. I think that's a big deal to really make that shift.

I don't think our assessments are there yet. If we can continue to push vendors to go that route, that's definitely where we want to go.

We're still going forward with online assessment.

What advice do you have for other states getting ready to grapple with similar challenges?

It's not just assessment vendors [that states have to manage], it's every link in the chain. It's our networking vendors, our device vendors, it even goes to AT&T, who owns our statewide contract for internet access. It's understanding who owns each piece of your chain so you can hold them accountable.

At a state level, I would highly recommend doing a tech readiness survey every year. You've got to find out the readiness of your people, networks, devices, teachers. It also means practicing locally. Stress your networks, do practice runs.

We hold the contract for high stakes assessment. So it's our job to make that conversation happen and make it the right experience. Ultimately, you want classroom teachers understanding exactly how the assessment is going to play out.

Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekEdTech for live updates from ISTE 2013.

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