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Ga. Schools Chief: Testing Snafu With Unknown Impact Is 'Unacceptable'

Georgia Superintendent Richard Woods says he will hold a testing company responsible for technical glitches on its state exam that have affected an unknown number of students and required several districts to switch to paper exams.

The Associated Press reported that the problems with Georgia's exams that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards were not as severe as problems experienced in states including Nevada and Montana. But Woods said he would be taking CTB McGraw-Hill to task for the glitches—last year, the testing company received a $107 million contract from the state for the test, although the state can seek to claw back some of that money if the company can't deliver what the contract requires.

Although Peach State students have more than 2 million of the tests successfully,"It is still unacceptable to have even one district having a problem when our testing contract calls for a robust online testing program," Woods told districts in a statement.

Georgia schools had to administer at least 30 percent of its exams online this year. It's not clear exactly how many students or tests have been impacted by the problems, which have required some students to attempt to log in to the exams multiple times. 

That's a problem similar to what Nevada experienced, according to Nevada state deputy superintendent Steve Canavero. In an interview with me about the state's woes administering the Smarter Balanced exam, Canavero said the log-in process for students became a bottleneck. Students seeking to log in would simply get kicked out of the testing program and have to try again. (Georgia is not using a common-core test from one of the two federally funded testing consortia.)

"They can't put their foot on the gas, because if that were the case, there would be error messages," Canavero said late last month, regarding districts' testing capacity.

The Nevada education department has declared a statewide "irregularity" regarding the exams, and has lodged a complaint against Smarter Balanced, one of the two consortia, and its testing vendor, Measured Progress.

What's the broader impact of these issues? Canavero told me that, for one thing, Nevada's plan to use Smarter Balanced results from the 2014-15 school year as a baseline may have to be delayed by one year. That could significantly impact the state's plans for its accountability system. And as of late last month, when I talked to Canavero, he said that the Smarter Balanced testing administration is beginning to clash with some districts' local assessment plans. It's not clear how, or if, districts will resolve these calendar conflicts when it comes to different exams. In the end, there's significant disruption for teachers and students.

"We had tested all of our switches and everything else you could think of in order to get ready for this. And then it fails, through no fault of our own," Canavero told me.

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