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State postpones testing dates

On Wednesday, thousands of students across New York state learned that their computer-based English language arts assessment had been postponed, due to technical issues with Minnesota-based testing vendor Questar Assessment. While not all school districts have implemented computer-based testing (CBT), several schools in Chautauqua County have made the transition and were affected by the disruption. According to a statement from spokesperson Emily DeSantis, the state education department designated Wednesday a non-testing day for CBT exams.

“We were fortunate that we were not trying to take the test on Tuesday,” Silver Creek Superintendent Todd Crandall told the OBSERVER. “Many, many schools did and had to stop.” Indeed, more than 84,000 testing sessions were submitted on Tuesday, and many were affected by technical difficulties on the part of Questar.

All schools were given an original mandatory testing window of April 1 through April 8; however, an extension to the testing window has been provided through Friday, April 12. Crandall said his district had originally scheduled the two-day exam for today and Wednesday; however, the exam is now scheduled for today and Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 9:45 a.m.

Although the change in schedule was unexpected, Crandall is confident that students are well-prepared, regardless of the modified schedule. “The reality is, we all recall when we were in school — whether it’s elementary, middle or high school — getting anxious and wanting to do our best work on a test,” he told the OBSERVER. “Our students and staff take a lot of pride in being prepared. This does throw us off just a bit, but I’m confident they’ll do well.”

Gowanda Middle School students were also affected by the change in schedule, as they, too, were scheduled to take the exam today and Wednesday. In an announcement to students and families, Middle School Principal Todd Miklas said that the exam is rescheduled for Wednesday, April 10 and Thursday, April 11. “It is our hope that by that point, all technology matters will have been resolved, causing less stress and anxiety for our students and teachers, as well as not placing testing dates at the start or end of the school week,” said Miklas.

Dunkirk Middle School also participates in CBT, and sixth grade students did take the exam on Monday and Tuesday. According to office staff, the computer issues were resolved by the end of the day on Tuesday, and students’ exams were unaffected by Questar’s technology issues. Due to the non-testing day, Dunkirk seventh and eighth grade students are taking the exam today and Friday, although they were originally scheduled to take the exam on Wednesday.

Schools that have not yet switched to CBT, such as Forestville Central School, were unaffected by the technology disruption, and their traditional pencil and paper exam was administered on schedule.

According to the Associated Press, a computer issue interfered with last year’s English assessments as well. Crandall confirmed that this was the case last year. “New York state is working hard to create a system that’s smooth and flawless, but it’s a big task to pull off,” he acknowledged. “Each year, more and more schools are participating in CBT. Last year, we had one or two grade levels (use CBT), but this year all students in grades four through eight did the computer-based ELA.”

Crandall explained that many schools in the area have already moved to CBT because of state guidelines. “The state gave us guidance that they want all schools to be doing CBT by 2020,” he said. “We wanted to get ahead of the process, so that’s why we had all our students try it this year.”

While some educators view the postponement as an inconvenience, others view it as a gross failure on the part of the state education department. On Wednesday, New York State United Teachers, a statewide union with more than 600,000 members, released the following statement:

“In 2018, students, parents and educators were assured that the failures of New York’s computer-based test system for grades 3-8 would not be repeated. This week, we found out that assurance was hollow as testing quickly deteriorated into a chaotic, stressful situation for the entire school community. A stop-gap corrective action plan is far from the significant overhauls that must be made to restore any semblance of trust in the state testing system. Computer-based testing must be halted, and not only should Questar be held accountable for this debacle, the state must be as well.”

The OBSERVER contacted Fredonia Central School Superintendent Jeff Sortisio, but he was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

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